BNI (Business Network International) is a great organization. I know many people who either are or have been members of a local group and have met with great success as a result of the connections they've made within the group.
For those who are unaware, BNI is a "strong" or "closed" networking organization. It has numerous chapters, usually several in any given town or city. The idea is that each local chapter allows only one member from any given profession in the group. There is a fairly rigorous examination of potential members in order to make sure that there is no overlap with other members of the group. Each week, members are expected to bring a referral or testimonial for some other member of the group.
Now, that all being said, I have a minor bone to pick.
BNI has a saying -- actually a registered trademark -- "Givers Gain®", which exemplifies the best of networking. I agree with this concept completely. That's not where I have a problem. My problem comes with the interpretation that some people attach to the saying. As I perceive it, the saying refers to an observational truth: Those who give will ultimately end up gaining. That is, those who provide value to those around them, who build strong relationships with no expectation of receiving anything in return, will ultimately reap the rewards of those connections. They will have developed contacts, acquaintances, and, yes, friends, who will have their best interests at heart and will do their best to bring value in return.
Yeah, "Givers Gain®" is a much more succinct way of putting that.
The challenge is those who interpret the saying as an instruction and a strategy which permits a form of transactional expectation. In other words, "I am giving to you, now I expect you to give to me". Those who behave this way usually end up frustrated because they end up with a weak network. Weak connections rarely result in the kind of gains that the limited networker is expecting. In fact, they will rarely, if ever, exceed the quality and level of "giving" that he or she originally provided.
Now, I know that a vast majority of BNI folks understand this concept -- the idea that "givers give" which results someday in gaining. Every once in a while, though, I run into someone who seems to have taken the wrong path. One person even went so far as to tell me that for sitting down with me and discussing her approach to networking, that I then owed her a referral or two in return. With that one statement, she made it clear to me that I was nothing but a potential source of revenue for her -- not a friend, not even an acquaintance.
Gosh, for some reason we haven't been in contact since then. I wonder why?