There is truth to the old adage that it isn't what you know, but who you know. Very often in business and even professions, career advancement and even the acquisition of knowledge and skills depends on personal contacts. It isn't that accomplishment, talent and vision isn't important, it is just a recognition that "people" are the critical element in moving forward on anything.
Emerging leaders in every field are thus counseled to "network" at every opportunity. Indeed, networking among peers is touted as the "open sesame" to virtually everything. Odd then that we do virtually nothing to help our leaders to be more adept and successful at networking (is it not but another skill that can be learned and improved upon; one where the bold and confident among us have an advantage?). I admit that my reason for going to conferences over the past decade has been principally for the opportunity to see old friends, and to make new contacts - and not so much for the sessions. The half dozen or so major ideas that became tangible projects for me over the period came about because of conversations with people I met in the field. Contacts became colleagues, colleagues became friends, and it is axiomatically easier for friends to cut through the nonsense and get things done.
If I had one piece of advice for fledging grant seekers it would be this: get to personally know the officers at foundations to which you will apply. Money flows more easily between friends than strangers and that is just a fact of life in business, politics, personal relations and yes, even in the nonprofit arts.
Actually I think that we in the nonprofit arts do pretty good at networking with each other. There are ample opportunities for even those just starting out to make and follow up on the contacts. We are - as is every group of people - somewhat of a tier of cliques, but we are as open as any to those just starting out. We are all constantly looking to connect with our peers.
The one issue I have with our "networking" is that - again like too many other 'fields' - we tend to "network" only with ourselves, when we should be spending a lot more time networking outside our field with our stakeholders and others whom might help us in various ways - from politicians and unions to the media and business people, from academicians to civic leaders.
We need to promote and encourage not only our emerging leaders, but those of us who have been around awhile, to expand their networking efforts outside our narrow confines. We need to begin to attend other field's conferences and insinuate ourselves into their networks. We need to be at the PTA and Chamber of Commerce (and a score of other) meetings and work within those groups' hierarchies. In short, we need more "friends" in other places.
So my advice to the emerging leader is to broaden your base - join other professionals and other groups as well as networking with those in your chosen field. In the long run, that will make you a better arts administrator, a more 'professional' manager and you will learn a great deal more about things ultimately important to your career than if you just network with your arts peers. And in so doing, over time, you will collectively better position our sector for the future.
Have a great week.