We all have many networks but most of us have only identified one and that is the network of affinity groups
Affinity groups include professional associations, religious organizations, alumni groups, or special interest groups. The key to these groups is that, because you belong to the same organization, there is a baseline of knowledge you have about other members that makes it easier to get into a relationship. And networking is all about relationships.
Professional Associations, including Chambers of Commerce, are frequently our best source of industry contacts. But if you have a membership and only participate by attending those meetings whose subject matter interests you, you’re wasting whatever it costs you to belong. If you belong to a Chamber or Professional Association and are not an active member you are missing activities that can give a real boost to your career. If you belong to either the membership committee (sometimes called ambassadors) or the program committee you will get maximum visibility where it counts. The program committee also gives you the opportunity to talk to just about anyone in your target market because you are exploring program and/or speaker ideas.
Religious organizations give you many opportunities for networking. People you meet at services or study groups tend to be super-willing to be of assistance. And many religious organizations offer career support groups and training classes. Whatever you do, don’t overlook the religious leader of the organization. That person knows who in the organization is in a position to be a good connection for you and, with that referral, you are highly unlikely to be turned down.
Alumni Groups can be very valuable. There are some mega-groups that are huge communities unto themselves and have somewhat formalized referral systems. But, I have found that alumni groups from institutions that are far away, small, and/or prestigious – although obviously smaller – are frequently even more dedicated to helping each other.
A twist on alumni groups are former employees of the same company who band together as a referral network of XYZ Co. alumni. These groups tend to be more prevalent in cyberspace than in actual space.
If you belong to a special interest group (whether it’s woodworking, oceanography, bird watching or cooking, etc.) it’s probably centered on something you are passionate about. And other people who are passionate about the same subject have a vested interest in having you around.