Posted by Jay Wilkinson

I believe LinkedIn is an effective tool and perhaps the most valuable social network for nonprofits. It’s essentially an online contact network that you can manage yourself, and over time you can build a great repository of information with valuable connections.

Here are five ways to get the most out of this social network.

  1. Get linked to your established network. This means your board members, your donors, volunteers, staff members—anyone associated with your organization. Don’t get tripped up by the “how do you know this person?” question that LinkedIn allows users to ask before you can connect with them. This simply provides context for the person you’re connecting with, which can be a good thing.
  2. Be personable and authentic. Include your photo and complete your bio. And have a little fun. This doesn’t have to be like a resume. In my bio, I write, “In high school and college, he started numerous businesses—most of which failed miserably.” It’s okay to be quirky and good to be personable. Also, I just mentioned context: Tell people how you know them (if they might not remember.) Maybe you met someone at an event and now you’d like to connect. Tell her that in your invitation.
  3. Claim your personal domain name. Just like with Twitter and Facebook, you can claim a domain name, and I’d recommend using your full name. It’ll make it easier for people to find you when they want to connect.
  4. Join groups and participate in the conversation. There are so many conversations going on all over LinkedIn about nonprofits, but many people still don’t know this. One example: The Nonprofit Professionals Forum. You can find great information in groups like this, which are growing by leaps and bounds every month.
  5. Give recommendations. This is the best way to get recommendations. Here’s where the law of reciprocation applies. I can go to any one of my connections’ profiles and write a rec for him based on my interaction with that person. Once my connection approves it, it’ll show up on his profile, and he’ll likely write a rec for me. Statistically, about 90% of people will reciprocate when you write a recommendation for them. This is a much better way to get recs than to simply ask for them.

These five tips will help you build a solid presence on LinkedIn and establish a valuable network of contacts.