Strategies for Building Your Social Capital

By going beyond networking, you can connect with your community on a deeper level. Some first steps to take to develop social capital.

People join associations to network, but what they’re really doing when they reach out to fellow members is building their social capital. But the term itself can be vague, and the methods by which you increase it intangible. So what is the difference between social capital and networking?

“I think of networks as part of social capital,” says Kristi Donovan, MS, CAE, a senior consultant at McKinley Advisors. “Networking is your building connections; a list of people that you know. But the value comes from the ongoing interaction you have with those people.”

Social capital is about developing a community, trust, and a common identity. So what can you do to build your social capital? Consider these strategies.

Engage With Other Members Consistently

It’s not enough to build a network and then become inactive. If you make an effort to engage in online communities, join a mentorship program, and help others, you will build trust and social capital. And during the pandemic, this takes more of a concerted effort.

“Members who are active probably perceive that their social capital is greater than people who are not involved in the association just by virtue of the fact that they’re involved,” Donovan says. “You get what you put into it.”

Look to connect with others in an altruistic way, not just to get something out of it. Donovan says she would make a point to connect with her colleagues for 30 minutes over a cup of coffee just to catch up, not to ask them for anything in return.


Give back to your community and build new connections by volunteering, even during the pandemic. VolunteerMatch identifies the many virtual volunteer opportunities available, which include tutoring and fundraising. The associations you belong to will offer several virtual opportunities as well.

“If you have a robust volunteer network, you probably have a strong base of social capital,” Donovan says.

Share Resources

When interacting with your online community, seize on opportunities to provide valuable knowledge or assets.

“For instance, if people are asking for an example of a policy, being able to contribute in that way also builds and contributes to your social capital,” Donovan says. “It creates awareness of your name, and it shows that you are someone who’s willing to give back.”

Build a Broad, Diverse Network

Keep building your network, and make a conscious effort to connect with those with different backgrounds and perspectives so that your community becomes stronger.

“The diversity and size of our networks can strengthen our social capital,” Donovan says. “The more diverse or the more well-networked you are, the better your social capital is overall.”

(Ada/DigitalVision Vectors)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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