An NHL Goalie, The Patterson Foundation Fellow, and 300 foundation staff walk into a Hilton in St. Louis. It’s either the worst joke ever or the start of a very interesting three days at Exponent Philanthropy’s CONNECT Conference.

While at The Patterson Foundation, I’ve been honing my “connective tissue” building skills through a variety of activities. Most challenging for me personally is conferences. There’s an expectation of seven meaningful connections, which to an (according to Buzzfeed) extroverted-introvert is an intimidating goal. However, I’m learning the art of connecting, and fortunately, the philanthropic sector has been a pleasant place to stretch these muscles.

In addition to expanding my comfort zone, my work in connective tissue building has adjusted my attitude about the process of meeting strangers altogether. In my experience, it’s rare to meet a person with whom I have nothing in common. And, more frequently than not, rather than “six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” I find it’s more like two.

For instance, while attending Exponent CONNECT, I randomly introduced myself to the person next to me at an event, and it turned out that we both worked for organizations that are interested in a “collective abundance” approach to philanthropy. Then, in a session, I noticed a woman at my table was from my parents’ home town. It turned out she works with my godfather, and her son was taught by my grandmother. You never know who you might meet.

While my experience has been on the individual level, I believe it’s important to note that the same can be said for making connections across organizations. After my very first conference as a Fellow, I wrote about collective abundance and radical inclusion.

Connections begin at the person level, but people work at organizations, and just like we find similarities with each other, our organizations can do the same.

As Cricket Island Foundation said in one session, when we share a mission, we’re all on the same side of the table.

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