Although museum/history professionals may not face the same problems or have the same priorities as bankers, financial advisers, and other salespeople, networking with professionals from outside the history field can be a valuable tool for museum/history professionals at all levels. Networking allows for those in the history field to help promote their institution in the community as well as educate the general public about the roles and responsibilities of museum professionals and those in other historical fields. It can even result in long-lasting partnerships and the development of new initiatives. It doesn’t matter if you’re an assistant registrar, researcher, or a director; networking can be a powerful tool to help develop your own personal connections and raising the profile of your institution/organization.
Getting started may seem like a daunting task but knowing where to look for networking opportunities can make things much easier. Local chambers of commerce are wonderful in this regard and usually host events that serve as after-hours networking opportunities. Sometimes these events are open to the public while other times they may be limited to members. Check with your museum or parent organization to find out if your organization is a member just in case. It may be worthwhile to suggest joining the local chamber if your organization isn’t a member. And don’t be intimidated by local city or county council members. Remember, these are people who have made it their business to talk to their constituents, a group that likely includes you! It’s always good for members of local governments to be able to put a face to the name of the museum or historical organization they’ve heard about. Invite them to come see it if they haven’t been. Plus many of the local chamber events I’ve been to have been catered as well. Nothing like free food!
Another avenue you can use to network with people outside the historical community is a local young professionals group. These organizations are sometimes better to attend as they often times try to make younger attendees feel welcome. Young professional organizations are often times less formal than other networking groups. The connections that can come out of events like these can lead to great partnerships or even monetary support. I’ve been fortunate to meet several people at meetings of the Lexington Young Professionals who have become donors to my institution. Just as a caveat, some young professional organizations require paid membership, so check with the group before attending.
Service organizations, such as the Lions Club, Kiwanis, Sertoma, etc, offer another opportunity for history professionals who want to deepen ties to the community and forge relationships with new prospective visitors, partners, and donors. These organizations are a great way to meet other professionals and give back to your community while also giving you a better sense of what the needs are. Being involved in your area puts you in a better position to develop programs and projects that can try to help meet those needs and further entrench your organization into the community. Try researching your local service organizations to see which one best suits you. It can be hard to maintain a commitment to these organizations since they often times require some sort of fundraising. This is especially difficult when your museum or organization is soliciting funds as well, so if you’re not a fundraiser for your institution, be sure to check in and make sure you’re not overextending the same donors.
Networking with outside professionals may require you to get out of your comfort area but can be well worth the effort. You’ll help promote your organization and may meet new friends as well!
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