Twenty-five years ago, just a couple years into my career, the head of the advocacy organization I worked for said to me “build relationships with your young colleagues. They’ll be running the country one day. These organizers, canvassers, beat reporters will be running companies, in congress, and editing the nation’s leading papers.”At the time it sounded preposterous.  Now, of course, it’s true. Relationships matter and the better job we do of building, sustaining and deepening relationships the more likely we are to succeed at work and life.  

Today, technology enables these professional relationships – our professional networks – to be more helpful and more powerful than ever before (both ways – technology makes it easier for us to assist others, not just for us to be assisted).Tim O’Reilly (O’Reilly Media) observed on the final day of Linkedin’s Talent Connect Conference that each Linkedin connection adds surface area to your network. That’s a VERY helpful way for nonprofit leaders to think about networking.

Cause leaders want to have as much of this kind of “surface area” as possible.  And we want it in as many areas as possible – in the business community, with funders, with elected and government officials, with the media, with academics, in our own area of expertise, outside our expertise, etc. This should reinforce for us the importance of building and tending to our own professional network. But even more important it suggests the enormous latent power in the networks of people who care about our cause – our staff, board, volunteer mentors, donors, corporate partners, etc. 

If you are connected to me I increase your surface area as my Linkedin InMapbelow illustrates. Here’s the fun thing. When I add people to my network I add value to YOUR organization’s network. 

And this is my HUGE TAKE AWAY from Talent Connect…

Everyday millions of people put time and effort into their professional networks on Linkedin. When they do this work they create value.They connect to someone they met in DC. They reach back to reconnect with a colleague from 25 years ago. They make an introduction to help the career of another. They add to and share their knowledge.  All of this work is being done, and will continue to be done, without you or your organization spending any time or resources. Yet this represents enormous potential value for your cause

This is because hundreds and possibly thousands of the people doing all this work are your organization’s stakeholders. They are your board, staff, volunteers and donors – past and present. You can turn this potential value into immediate, real value by simply getting organized and getting connected. You’ll immediately increase your surface area. Whether you are trying to recruit great people, share your story, or build access and influence, your increased reach will increase your chance of success. 

There’s even passive power in your growing network. Each time someone sees that a trusted colleague is on your board or is connected to your cause you plant a seed. Go plant a lot of seeds. 

If you are trying to change the world, trying to figure out how to leverage digital tools to help you succeed, you are not going to find much lower hanging fruit than this.  Create a culture in your organization of intentional networking and relationship building and go tap the latent value of your existing and future network on Linkedin.