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Do you have an Affinity for Networking?

In a sea of networking groups, it is often difficult not only to find the time to investigate all of these groups but also difficult to find time to decide which ones are right for you. There are lots of ways to narrow them down but I want to discuss affinity networking here. What is it? Affinity networking is joining groups with others who share an interest in something you share an interest in as well. This could be a running club, a women’s networking group, a college alumni group, a synagogue group-just to give a few examples. The affinity could be something more basic as well like race, religion or gender.

So what is the benefit in networking based on affinity?Well, some of us are not natural networkers. We don’t relish the idea of going into a room full of strangers who we don’t think we have anything in common with and trying to generate “small talk.” Now of course I could give a bunch of pointers in doing this but I do understand that people feel more comfortable and open when they talk to people they already share common ground with. I consider myself a natural networker but even when I go to events, if I meet someone and in the course of conversation I find out they have rescue dogs I feel an immediate kinship with them since I’m a mom of 3 crazy rescue dogs myself. We are naturally drawn to people we share common ground with and this is a great way to start to build relationships both socially and for business.

Many larger companies have begun to understand the merit of affinity networking as well and have had people form groups to get to know people at the company and generate ideas. See hereThese affinity groups have also helped greatly with hiring a diverse workforce and more importantly, retaining a diverse workforce. See here “The social networks created in employee affinity groups can serve as a counterbalance to the ‘old boy’s network’ and help increase diversity among managerial ranks. When a company makes it easier for employees to meet people in other departments and levels of hierarchy, it creates a greater likelihood of career advancement.”

I do a lot of alumni work with my alma matter, Haverford College, and in the last few years they have begun looking at affinity groups as a great way to connect alum. There has been a very successful Haverford Alumni Lawyers Network and now the College is looking to expand those affinity alumni groups. This can also assist with fundraising if you are in a role where you are looking to engage potential donors. I have seen this be very successful with Alex’s Lemonade, a national non-profit based on eradicating pediatric cancer. They have something called The Lemon Society which is their Young Professional affinity group. They are very dedicated and active. They raise funds and conduct their own agenda of activities and events as well as help with the larger activities of the organization. They are now looking to start young professional chapters in other cities as well (so far there’s one in NYC). Alex Lemonade Stand

This is also a very successful online networking strategy with things like LinkedIn Groups and Meet Up. On LinkedIn you can join up to 50 groups and can join based on lots of affinity-related criteria. For example, local event planners, accountants in the Philadelphia area, moms on the main line just to name a few. On Meet Up you can find people that share your passion for anything from knitting to eating soup to playing tennis to business master mind groups. You can find groups for those over 50, groups for divorced people, young professionals, moms, women, or anything else you can think of. These are great places to start networking if you are just starting to network and especially if you are new to a geographical area and are looking to meet new people in your area.

The bottom line is to get out there. I am amazed by the number of people who think finding their next client or finding a job can happen by sitting in front of their computer at home and not engaging with anyone. Whether you do online networking, in person networking, or both, get out there and start building relationships. Affinity networking may be just the catalyst you need to help you get out there. So whatever it takes-just do it!

Jennifer Lynn Robinson, Esquire

Jennifer Lynn Robinson, Esquire is CEO and Founder of “Purposeful Networking.” She offers consults with individuals to target their ideal clients through improved relationship building. She conducts workshops and speaking engagements for workplaces, business associations, non-profits and other groups. Jennifer lives with her husband and their three rescue dogs in suburban Philadelphia, PA. www.purposefulnetworking.com

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