Networking at Rotary meetings has received an undeserved bad rap. I have even been told it violates Rotary policy. It does not. Some clubs fine members for doing business or exchanging business cards at meetings. This is unfortunate. Networking at Rotary predates the concept of Service as part of Rotary. Paul Harris and the founders of Rotary established Rotary as a fellowship and networking opportunity for members.
In Past RI President Richard King’s “to the Question Why Join Rotary” he states, “The second original reason for Rotary’s beginning is business development. Everyone needs to network. Rotary consists of a cross section of every business community. Its members come from all walks of life. Rotarians help each other and collectively help others.”
Networking is a valid reason to join Rotary. However, anyone who joins only for networking opportunities will be disappointed, the expected sales will not materialize. As source of contacts and as a valuable place to develop networking and leadership skills Rotary is second to none.
Networking is essential, not just in direct sales positions but to be successful in any business or profession. Rotary offers the opportunity to network and learn leadership skills.
In the book, “The Frog and Prince – Secrets of Positive Networking” the authors, who conduct networking workshops outline essential steps in how to network. They state that, “People will do business with people they know and trust, and trust is even more important today than it’s ever been.”
Networking is not about self-promotion. It is about discovering what you do for other people. Networking at Rotary may include helping someone find a job, meet a contact or supplier or offering your products and services to a Rotarian or one of their clients. In the “The Frog and Prince” seven tips for networking success are listed. Tip number five is “maximize opportunities to expand your network”.
The book states that networking goes on all the time. Recognizing this is the key to success. Meeting people in both business and social situations, volunteering, joining local organizations, or giving your expertise for free are great ways to build your network. Sound like Rotary? Rotary is an ideal setting for members to both learn and practice networking skills.
Networking is for all Rotarians not just those in direct sales. When I was a police officer, I networked frequently at Rotary meetings, my own and other clubs. I used my Rotary network to recruit members to the board of directors of the Crime Prevention Society, I drafted Rotarians to the Mayor’s Task Force on inner city crime and used networking to match various sections of the police department with clubs to carry out service projects related to traffic safety and crime prevention.
We should encourage our members to use Rotary as a networking opportunity, not discourage them. We need to bring new members into the informal groups in our clubs. Exchange business cards and tips on business opportunities. “The Frog and Prince” ends with a reminder that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.
Go ahead, pass out your business card at your next Rotary meeting.