When someone mentions the word ‘networking’, what immediately springs to mind? Corridor conversations, conferences with coffee on tap, or managers off on ‘another jolly’ while everyone else gets on with the ‘real work’?

The word increasingly seems to divide opinion; with some almost evangelistic in their zeal to share the value of networking and others jaded from the endless jaw‐jaw and perceived lack of real outcomes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is often men who end up in the first group; only too happy to find another pretext to travel, to listen to their own voices in the conference hall and again at the bar.

The organisation I work for was founded on a different premise: that by working together we achieve far more than we ever could on our own. In Viva’s case, this means ‘lasting change for children’, demonstrated in the way our partner network in the Philippines responded to Typhoon Haiyan.

The collective response of churches and organisations based across the affected area was only realised through a network platform that has taken years of nurturing to build. The result? An immediate, well‐coordinated and powerful local response that has the capacity to continue for years to come.

What I like about networking is that it’s a verb, and verbs – as we were all taught at school – are ‘doing words’. What I don’t like is when the ‘ing’ bit becomes an end in itself, never creating the context for it to grow up to become a noun: in this case a network.

Because networks can be inspiring when they focus on collective action, like in the
Philippines, and may even have the power to change lives.

Reflecting on 20 years of networking, mainly within the voluntary sector, here are my three quick tips to help you make better use of your own opportunities:
•    Be strategic in how, with whom and where you spend your time
•    Be intentional in your focus on the desired outcomes
•    Be relational in your approach, balancing the formal with the informal

And next time you’re tempted to say, “I’m off networking”, why not stop and think first about what you are really hoping to achieve and communicate that instead?

Martin Thomas heads up Viva’s mobilisation offices in the UK, North America and Hong Kong ( He is a writer, a trustee of The Bless Network and a novice barista. He and his family live in Witney, Oxfordshire.

This article first appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Sorted magazine and is republished here with their permission. Subscribe to receive Sorted magazine directly to your door, six times a year, by clicking here.