Building Effective Networks

I’ve recently been repeatedly encountering the concept of building strong networks.

First, through my work for the Lumina Foundation for Education, I’ve gotten to know Paul Vandeventer.  Paul is the CEO of Community Partners and co-authored Networks That Work with Dr. Myrna Mandell.  The book is a short, “must read” guide on developing and managing effective coalitions, helping pose and answer key questions around purpose, commitment, conflict, staffing, and other issues that networks and coalitions face.  For my friends back in Indiana, Paul will be speaking at the Indiana Grantmakers Alliance conference in November.

Second, Janis Foster, Executive Director of Grassroots Grantmakers, turned me on to the blog Network Weaving.  The team has a thoughtful set of posts (here, here, and here) about how philanthropists can enhance their giving and strengthen their grantees through developing deep networks of relationships.  In a newer post, they discuss the importance of network weavers, people who intentionally connect people with each others’ assets, opportunities, and dreams.

Lastly, I ran across a short white paper by the Interaction Institute, Net Gains: A Handbook for Network Builders Seeking Social Change.  The authors believe the nonprofit sector lags behind the business sector in using networks to innovate and grow.  They then sketch out five strategies for accelerating the use of networks to improve nonprofit impact.

These resources reminded me that funders and nonprofits alike enter into networks and coalitions too lightly.  Getting organizations together to work on an issue, or even just to learn from each other, takes far more time, thought, and resources than we typically devote.  The results are typically frustration all around and coalitions and relationships that don’t begin to reach their potential.

I suspect I’ll be running into coalition development issues in my work in the coming months and am glad to have these new resources at my fingertips.