Online social networking sites offer charities an inexpensive way to reach out, but there are many benefits to networking the old-fashioned way — meeting face to face.

Whether you’re planning to meet with donors, peers, or influencers, here are some suggestions about how to maximize your time.

Prepare yourself. Zero in on your expectations and set some specific goals before you walk in the door. Are you looking for a mentor? Planning to nurture existing relationships? Hoping to connect with influencers? When you’re clear about your intentions, you’ll be able to articulate them to others more clearly.

Arrive on time. People tend to gather into groups and if you’re late, inserting yourself into an ongoing conversation may be difficult.

Work the room. Don’t wait for others to approach you, go to them. That said, you don’t have to meet all the people in the room — just the right ones. You may be able to accomplish your goals by making just one or two key connections.

Be a “connector.” Connecting people not only builds your own network, it builds your reputation as being someone who brings people together. Your connections may be more likely to ask for your help — and more likely to help you in return.

Focus on each person and each conversation. It’s impossible to know which connections will be valuable and which will not.

Follow up. Of all the networking rules, this may be the most important one of all. Within a day or two of meeting someone new, send an e-mail or a handwritten note. Connect with your new contacts via social networking sites within the same time period.