Published: May 28, 2024 | Updated: May 23, 2024

Toastmasters, NIA and Rotary play part in forging business bonds

The North Idaho Alliance hosts the Perk It Up event to host speed networking interactions for people in business.

The North Idaho Alliance hosts the Perk It Up event to host speed networking interactions for people in business.

Sharpening skills or honing in on specific types of business relationships are hard to foster in a vacuum, but organizations like Toastmasters, the North Idaho Alliance and Rotary Club offer focused opportunities to build community and train outside the workplace.

Speaking your mind

When Jeremy Duncan and his father, Jeff Duncan started Vista Window Cleaning in 2010, he realized his comfort level in speaking to customers was not there and his father had developed a skill for customer communication that he admired and wanted to work on for himself.

“I noticed I felt uncomfortable and he had the vision of me stepping up and doing more of that,” Duncan said.

He discovered Toastmasters and joined the Coeur d’Alene Talk of the Town group and found kinship and a space to practice in the weekly meetings.

“It’s a practice arena. What it does provide is a nice gentle environment to improve without having to get this feeling you have to do your job,” Duncan said.

He credits it to building up his customer-facing relationships and has gained some jobs from the club bonds and since the short speeches are usually about topics close to the speaker's heart, feels close to his fellow Toastmasters after they share about their life or work.

Meetings take place before you go to work, which makes it almost a group meditation activity for Duncan. 

“I felt I needed to communicate better and I did. I gained those skills and I’m a lot more comfortable with my clients and just my community in general,” Duncan said.

Bolstering community connections

Above all else, Marilee Wallace of the North Idaho Alliance values the importance of local connections over the glamor of TED Talks.

One of her favorite events to coordinate as founder and CEO of the organization is the Perk It Up event, which she calls “speed-dating for businesses.” 

 NIA is primarily a women-focused leadership group, but they expand their scope and welcome everyone in as nonprofits, businesses, volunteers and entrepreneurs seek community connections at the Kroc Center during Perk It Up. 

“It’s a really great networking tool,” Wallace said.

One of the most popular series the group offers a program called the Women of IMPACT Leadership Roundtable Series running over nine months. 

The series uses monthly themes stemming from letter in the word “impacted” to shape the programming, beginning with inspirational women for the letter “I,” “M” for mentorship, “P” for participation highlighting nonprofits and so on from September to May.

“We connect women to women and let them thrive. I’ve brought in women who have come from abusive childhoods who have built successful businesses and women who have survived cancer,” Wallace said.

The mentorship talks are intended to not only help women identify how to find a mentor, but how to be a mentor. 

The hope is that they will learn more about various local resources and have a more concrete strategy for what they’re interested in pursuing, whether it be joining a nonprofit board or planning for their business.

The 65 women also often forge a strong bond over the nine months of the series,and Wallace believes in only using local connections for the speakers. 

“For me it’s key because a lot of times organizations will bring in speakers from outside the area for the day and while they might give great information, there’s no follow up. She might have found this topic really interesting but she had no way to get back in touch with this person,” Wallace said.

Volunteer and dig in through community roots

Grassroots volunteer networking connections have been the biggest sell over the years for Jeff Voeller, the current president of the Coeur d’Alene Rotary Club.

As a young business professional, he joined the group 18 years wanting to serve the community and be more aware of what is happening around him.

After leaving business and getting into the field of education, his workplace may have changed, but the drive to help and work with others ready to help hasn’t changed.

“One of the reasons I did join was the opportunity for networking and being engaged in my community, but through those years, I think I’ve grown to have a deeper appreciation for what Rotary does through community service,” Voeller said.

International service projects are also on the table in a way to take local and magnify those positive ripples throughout other communities.

“It’s given me the opportunity to be a leader and the opportunity to pour into the community,” Voeller said.

With weekly speakers from other nonprofits, the ability to better understand who needs support in the community and how organizations can band together to help something of great value to him personally and as a leader.

Rotary service projects can also hone in on community needs.

“Our local rotary club has taken an interest in putting in beacons for safer crossing at crosswalks now for students going to school and we’ve installed those at Fernan, Borah and just recently we completed one at Woodland,” Voeller said.

His passion for helping through Rotary also extends to school supplies drives and serving on a committee to distribute student scholarships allowing people to continue with their education past high school.

The tight bonds he feels with his fellow Rotarians is strong enough to uplift others and each other. He’s proud that when members experience hardship, they are always there to support one another.

“When you meet with these people each week, they kind of become another version of your family. We have real estate agents, we have accountants there, so when you need those types of services, you know who you can go to who are trusted individuals because you’ve gotten to know them,” Voeller said.

    Jeremy Duncan joined Toastmasters Talk of the Town in Coeur d'Alene to work on his speaking skills for the business he started with his father, Vista Window Cleaning.