Networking naturally through volunteerism

Posted by Avanti Women May 1, 2017

Tourism Toronto President & CEO Johanne Beílanger 


Introverts, exhale…

Schmoozing at networking events isn‰Ûªt the only means to building meaningful relationships that can advance your career.

Case in point: Tourism Toronto President & CEO Johanne Beílanger  has more than 2000 global LinkedIn contacts, each whom she has been personally acquainted with on some level. Of course, it helps that she is self-assured and effortlessly extroverted, but she credits her ever-growing network of diverse professional contacts—and much of her career success—to volunteering.

‰ÛÏAlthough people may come from different backgrounds and walks of lives, when they volunteer or sit on a board, they are there to fulfill the organization‰Ûªs mission which provides them with a source of commonality from which to start having discussions and networking,‰Û she explained.

No stranger to working pro bono, Johanne has donated her time and energy to numerous charity and industry boards throughout her career. Most notably, she served on the Board of Directors for Tourism Toronto for six years beginning in 2009, before eventually being hired to run the entire association in 2015.

‰ÛÏWhen I initially joined the Tourism Toronto board, the goal, in addition to delivering on Tourism Toronto‰Ûªs mission, was to put my previous company at the forefront of people‰Ûªs minds, and make connections that might eventually generate business for the organization,‰Û she said. ‰ÛÏUltimately, through volunteering, I was exposed to a network of people that I would not have had the opportunity of connecting with under normal circumstances.‰Û

Improve networking proficiency

In fact, Johanne‰Ûªs social skills likely improved greatly over the years due to her willingness to volunteer.

Though most volunteers become involved with charitable or non-profit organizations for altruistic reasons, most agree they have received substantial benefits themselves, according to a Statistics Canada study. Many stated that their volunteer activities had given them a chance to develop new skills.

For example, the report noted, 64 per cent of volunteers surveyed said their interpersonal skills had improved, and 44 per cent said their volunteer experiences had given them better communications skills, which can certainly come in handy when mingling with the head of human resources at the next company Christmas party.

Make it personal

Just to be clear, no one is suggesting that you volunteer for the sole reasons of expanding your rolodex or peddling yourself or your services. People can sense when you‰Ûªre being disingenuous.

Tactics like self-promotion and ingratiation can backfire, Harvard Business Review points out. Moreover, trying to anticipate what will impress another person ‰ÛÏincreases your anxiety and makes you feel inauthentic,‰Û the publication states.

Many of the professional connections Johanne has made through her volunteering initiatives have actually impacted her personal growth (and vice versa) by becoming unofficial mentors, coaches, subject matter experts, and close friends.

‰ÛÏBeing yourself and being authentic when you meet people is probably the number one piece of advice I can give,‰Û she said. ‰ÛÏYou have to connect with people on a human and authentic level for your relationships to truly evolve.‰Û


This article was contributed by Avanti Women volunteer, Trisha Richards. Trisha Richards is a business communicator, writer and marketer in Toronto. Connect with her through her website:

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