Social work is far reaching and incredibly diverse. The following words are just a snippet…
Networking in Social Work 101
Networking!? Isn’t networking for those business people? Or for when we are looking for a new place of employment? Yes. But it’s also for social workers! Networking is a skill that can enhance your experience as a social worker…but it can also provide a better client experience. This is a win-win!
What networking looks like
When I talk about networking, I’m really talking about relationship building at its core. For me, networking can sometimes feel fake or shallow in the sense that it is self serving and temporary in nature. This type of networking is different. The relationships you build with others may last indefinitely. And they have the best interest of the client in mind. If I had to name three attributes of good social work related networking, they would be:
3. Mutually Beneficial
Networking is important for the very reason social work even exists: unlimited need and limited resources. Your organization (or private practice) will never be able to provide every single resource your clients will need. Also, you will never have all of the knowledge about available resources for your clients. (Although, you may have quite a bit!). And that’s where having relationships with other individuals and organizations come into play.
Even after years of experience or working in the same community, you will probably not be aware of all the resources in the area (*AND* have thorough knowledge on how they operate). Forming strong relationships with other service providers is a great way to get accurate and beneficial information that no website or brochure could provide.
Formal Networking Ideas
You probably know the best places to form relationships with other service providers in your area. But I want to highlight a few different possibilities:
NASW Chapters: this is a great, standard option for networking within the profession in your area. If you are a member, this could be an easy place to find and create relationships with other providers. The caveat here is that not everyone is an NASW member, so don’t limit yourself to whomever is in this amazing group of humans! Click here to learn more about NASW membership.
Community meetings: this will look different depending on where you live as well as your role as a social worker. But the common theme with any community based meeting is that there are other humans with similar interests and goals. These humans may have the information or resources to help your clients in ways you may not have even considered. Community meetings could be directly human service related (ex: county wide residential services meeting) or a general community gathering (ex: town hall).
Community meetings highlight yet another perk of networking: communication. Making sure everyone is on the same page can be critical depending on the services you are providing or wish to provide in the future.
Informal Networking Ideas
Every day interactions with other service providers: this is likely the way you will network most often. You know those sometimes mundane phone calls to Medicaid, the case manager, or the landlord? Or that treatment team meeting that always seems to be the same each month? These interactions can be critical as we seek to develop relationships with service providers in our area.
The pharmacist or therapist may be able to walk you through how a certain process works, explain a law/policy, or connect you to new resources that could be of benefit to your client. This is even more reason to treat each and every interaction with care.
Every day interactions with others: Service providers are not the only group of people to consider part of your networking strategy. The mailman, local cafe, animal shelter, or local grocery store may also hold resources for your clients. So treat these relationships with just as much care. And consider this your opportunity to be creative! How can a local tattoo shop help your client? What about the community knitting night? I’m sure you already do this naturally, but consider this your reminder to treat everything as a potential resource.