Mormon Networking

Mormons like to consider themselves a social people–and among themselves I think that is indisputably the case. Most of the people I know in NYC outside of work are Mormon. It seems it is now impossible for me to go anywhere in the world without running into someone I know at church. Last summer I visited Taipei and ran into someone I knew from Vienna.

Since most of my contacts come from within the church, it seems natural to look to church as not only a source of spiritual nourishment, but a place of professional advancement. You do business, after all, with the people you know. Yet there is something disagreeable for me (and I think for most people) thinking about your fellow church/ward members as a business network. Most of us like our religion pure and that means commerce free. We accept the fact that the church needs money to operate as a necessary evil, but don’t believe in exploiting the church for material gain. Perhaps this is why so many people object to Mormon-themed businesses (another a topic for another post).

Most of our networking, like most networking in general, is done naturally. We probably all know of cases where someone moved into a ward specifically with the goal of landing clients or hobnobbing with the rich and powerful–but that is undoubtedly the exception.

There have been some steps taken to formalize what has always gone on informally. One of the primary purposes of professional organizations such as the J Reuben Clarke Society is networking.

Yesterday Dave argued that the church should stay out of politics–my question is whether commerce should stay out of church. Or should we take advantage of the opportunity to do business with one another–even overtly favor one another–rather than do business with “gentiles”? And is it wrong to seek out friendships with ward members based on a desire to increase a professional network?

I’ve thought some about this–and I’ll post my thoughts after hearing what other people think.


  1. “Yesterday Dave argued that the church should stay out of commerce.” Moi? Either one of us missed something or else there’s another Dave commenting here. Could you point me back to the statement on commerce you’re referring to?

    I probably would argue that the Church should stay out of commerce, but I’d like to see the statement before I adopt it.

  2. AB: Have you clicked on the link I have for you on BCC’s main page? It’s a little unofficial mormon business organization.

    I guess I can’t leave this topic alone, though, by saying that church members shouldn’t do business with each other — because fundamentally, I think we should. In fact, church members ought to be ideal business partners: honest, pleasant, etc. We SHOULD enjoy working with each other, and ideally, it sounds like a great way to sustain each other and build up the church. So where did we go wrong?

    Also, are the things I’ve outlined really why mormons can’t escape doing business with each other? Or are there more insidious cultural reasons? Perhaps others more steeped in UT/LDS culture can testify…

  3. Ann, it can indeed be illegal to have a hiring practice/who you do business with list that includes religion as a criterion. But that doesn’t mean that the law making it illegal would pass constitutional muster.

    Matthew Parke: Thanks! My first BCC brownie point :)

  4. Ann, you could never offend me. Your Buckeye charms are too smooth.

    But as to your comment — I agree that mixing business and friends is dumb/bad. But don’t you think that it’s a shame? I mean, I’d like to work with mormons and talk our secret talk all day long, but I know that’s a bad idea — and that makes me feel like there’s something wrong with our community.

    You’re just chalking it up to general human frailties, but I’m thinking there’s some other cultural defect out there.

  5. Dave–apologies, I meant that you argued that the church should stay out of politics.

  6. Generally, people seem to think that doing business with other ward members is bad. But, is networking bad as well? Are there socially accepted rules out there about what is and what is not appropriate? Should there be rules? I moved into a new ward to attend law school. There are several practicing attorneys in my ward. I have not approached any of them for career advice for two reasons: first, I think it may be inappropriate; second, I think they may think it is inappropriate and get annoyed. IÂ’ve found a decent clerk position on my own, but I wonder if I missed a good opportunity to network.

  7. Gosh — Ann, Nate, everybody — sorry for the mistakes!

  8. Hi Ann–It’s coming . . . as soon as I get off work late this evening.

  9. How do you know the person is Mormon? Do they go to your ward/stake? Were they referred by a Mormon? What if it’s the choice between a less-active or ex-Mormon and a nevermo.

    Religion shouldn’t enter into the decision. If the person is a friend, I would be less likely to hire him/her. If the person is a casual acquaintance, then religion is a non-issue. Probably illegal to make it so.

  10. I agree with Steve here. It’s hard enough already to get along with everybody at Church. Getting into business with them, and then risking that things will turn sour, only increases the odds that ward camaraderie will be that much harder.

    I remember growing up that my mother would hire Church members for a variety of projects (painting the house, real estate agent, etc.). Years later, she came to the conclusion that business relationships with ward members are problematic, often because they would expect special treatment, favors, etc., by virtue of their common religious affiliation. That’s just one person’s experience, of course.

    Steve — I appreciate all the free publicity I can get, but why does your first comment refer everyone to the “link for Aaron Brown”?

    Aaron B

  11. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being reluctant to go into commerce with friends. Work is not a social situation for most of us; a failed project or two can cause real problems. Most of us can’t be blithe about business failure because Daddy’s trust fund is there to bail us out. We need to work to survive. That the job gets done right is more important than the “bond” we have with the person doing it.

    I think it’s a mistake to err the other way: if the best person for the job is a Saint, hire ’em! But Saint-ness is not usually a job qualification, unless you want to work for the Church.

    When we moved to Texas, our realtor was great; she was also LDS. We didn’t know her from Adam. She sold our house there four years later, and did a terrific job (sold in 16 days for what we wanted). She also had excellent professional references and worked for the largest realtor in the city. We weren’t getting a pig in a poke – she wasn’t just LDS, she was QUALIFIED. It was fun working with her.

    When we moved here, our realtor was great; She was NOT LDS. We didn’t know her from Adam. She also had excellent professional references and worked for a large, well-known real estate franchise. She was qualified. It was fun working with her.

  12. I suspect a second reason there are so many Mormon business horror stories stems from the fact that people tend to emphasize failure over success. Economists have written extensively on this phenomenon which makes us more risk averse. Perhaps this is why so many would simply rather not do business with a fellow Mormon than risk having the business go badly. From a monetary standpoint, this leads to a suboptimal outcome. Despite this, I suspect that it is the prevailing model in the church. I wonder how many billions of dollars are year we collectively forgo in our efforts to preserve what I’ll call psychic income–the good we receive by choosing to do business outside the Mormon community rather than risk having business trouble within a community we associate very closely with God..

    If what I have written above it true, I think we are using a flawed model–one that simultaneously hurts us momentarily and betrays the brother and sisterhood that we strive for in the church–why wouldn’t we help our sister if we could? Because we selfishly seek to preserve rather than risk our psychic income. Lyle had it right when he wrote that we have an opportunity to live what we preach if things go badly–and actually look to God rather than equate godliness with our mortal brothers and sisters. It calls to mind the scripture about laying up treasures on earth rather than heaven.

  13. I’m surprised that so many of the responses are bearing tales of the dangers of doing business with fellow church members. I don’t think that most church members, or most people, for that matter, are looking to rip their friends off for a quick buck.

    I think one of the problems of doing business with friends, family and church members is that there is more trust and less information. I’m guessing that lots of people feel like they are ripped off because they were never clear about what they expected in the first place–or where never clear about what was expected from them. At law, for a contract to exist, there must have been a meeting of the minds–if person A thinks she is buying a car and person B thinks she is selling a sewing machine then there is no contract.

    When dealing with a family or church member, I think we are much less inclined to get into the messy details of the transaction because we think it shows a lack of trust. But for some reason we are surprised that ignoring good business practice leads to misunderstandings and bad feelings. My feeling is that once you decide to do business with someone–anyone, you have to keep proper controls in place–it removes the temptation to cheat and it avoids a lot of miscommunication.

  14. I’ve edited my post accordingly.

  15. Kori, as a practicing attorney, if someone in the ward came to me for career advice I’d be more than happy to help, partially because of the reasons Mathew cites but also because fundamentally ward members are there to help each other.

    You need to get a sense of when networking is exploitative and when it is appropriate. I think in your case it is clearly appropriate.

  16. Kori, you can also feel free to ask us any questions you’d like here on the board. There are enough lawyers lurking out there that I’m sure you’d end up with some good advice.

  17. Mathew and Steve E:

    Thanks for your advice. I have been afraid of crossing a line that may not exist.

  18. Nate, my mistake, you’re absolutely right, I wrote Nauvoo when I meant Kirkland. The collapse of the Safety(later Anti-Banking) Society was the debacle I was thinking of.

    Thanks for the correction! BTW, I thought the Anti-Bank concept was a great idea. More proof of the political humor of early leaders.

  19. Please see the link for Aaron Brown.

    Mormons of course have a conflicted history of mingling commerce with religious community, stemming from insular united order communities and distrust of the outside world.

    The question in my mind is whether that historical context is the reason behind the giant mormon schemes like Nu Skin. I have to conclude that it isn’t. That’s just plain vanilla opportunism, and I don’t think that it’s something necessarily imprinted on the mormon ethos.

    Here’s why I think mixing church and business is wrong — because business inevitably has its ups and downs, and you don’t want to strain your church fellowship because of business disputes. Look at the Nauvoo banks!

    Plus, every time I’ve done business with a Mormon, I’ve gotten screwed over…

  20. Since one of the primary reasons for networking is to do business with the people you are networking with, if you you think doing business with church members is bad then there isn’t much point in networking. You seem to be drawing a distinction between professional networking and “goods” networking. I think it is a valid distinction since with professional networking you don’t start out asking anyone to buy anything–until the “goods” networking.

    I don’t know how a person could possibly go wrong by asking someone for career advice–the mantra of a thousand career counselors is that people like to talk about themselves. I don’t see how networking at church really differs from a professional standpoint to networking in a social club or anywhere else–what you will do for someone beyond telling war stories all depends on how well you know and like them.

  21. So, waiting for Mathew’s opinion…or did I miss it in the comments elsewhere?

  22. So… all else being equal, do you hire the LDS person or the non-LDS person?

    Not just you, Ann, but everybody — how does having an LDS candidate affect their qualifications?

  23. Steve C., I think you are right on — it’s all about knowing the sustainable level of using the Church as a networking tool. Different members obviously have different levels of tolerance for this, and it requires some attention to people’s needs.

    Ann, it can indeed be illegal to have a hiring practice that includes religion as a criterion. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen…

  24. Steve,

    I’ve had the privilege to discuss this with you in person and my feeling is that there isn’t a religion in the world that doesn’t also function as a commercial network. I see no reason why being a Mormon should give me any additional handicaps.

    That said, there is good networking and bad networking. For example, convincing your friends to participate in multi-level marketing or other frauds is bad. Similarly, defrauding your church friends tends to poison the well of networking more than defrauding someone you don’t know. But really, isn’t it enough to say don’t practice fraud and be aware that even your fellow Mormon could be crook?

  25. Steve, relax! You can make all the mistakes you want, except for Ohio Place Names.

    I was just trying to be funny. I hope you aren’t offended.

  26. Steve, that’s “Kirtland.” As a Buckeye, I urge correct spelling of Ohio place names.

    I dislike doing business with friends on any level. I have no problem becoming friends (or just friend-ly) with co-workers, but I’m squeamish about doing business with people with whom I have personal relationships. I think the personal relationships cause unreasonable expectations in the business relationship, and it’s hard to keep the focus on business when the other person is someone you care about.

    A family member sometimes waxes eloquent about all the LDS women she’s able to give part-time employment to in her job. I can’t help but think that the primary qualifications for these decent paying, flexible jobs should not necessarily be that one is an LDS friend of Martha; furthermore, this has an underlying air of patronage (in the negative sense) that I find annoying. And then Martha complains when she’s stuck with a pile of work because an LDS employee has more important things to do than work.

    Your personal problems are only my business problems when we work together, unlessyou are my friend, too. Then they become both my personal problems and my business problems.

    Expecting a LDS to be inherently more honest, hard-working, diligent, thrifty, clean, loyal than a Methodist or a Hindu is silly.

    Go into business with people who have similar professional goals, ethics, and whose skill set complements your own. Don’t do anybody any favors unless you are willing to consider such favors “charity,” rather than a “job.”

  27. Steve: You are thinking of the Kirtland Safety Society (aka Kirtland Anti-Banking Society). Nauvoo was not financed by banks but by what was essentially venture capital money out of Connecticut secured by what turned out to be largely worthless land in Iowa and a personal guarantee from Joseph Smith that resulted in his personal bankruptcy under the short lived Bankruptcy Act of 1842.

  28. While waiting for Mathew, here’s a story:

    A couple I know own a small business in a community with a significant (though not majority) Mormon population. They resigned their memberships.

    A woman who had been doing business with them for several years came in and noticed the wife was wearing a sleeveless top. Squinted a bit. “I haven’t seen you in church lately.”

    “We aren’t members any more.”

    “Oh. Well, I only do business with active LDS.” And then she left, business un-done.

    Forget about all the rush orders they’d processed in the past for no charge. Forget about all the other excellent service they had provided at a good rate to her in the past. They weren’t Mormon any more, and by golly, she didn’t want to deal with them.

    This is the sort of thing that makes me leary of looking to or depending on the Mormon network for connections. Because the important thing isn’t the work: it’s the “Mormon.”

  29. Why avoid what is a mortal problem; which comes with dealing with Jane Mormon, Joe Methodist, X Nothing, etc.? While cutting business deals during church meetings may be bad karma; I’m not sure that one should avoid doing business with a fellow congregant…and if it goes wrong . . . then you have a great opportunity to see if both of ye are able to live what you preach.

%d bloggers like this: