Creating a Trusted Community Giving Center pt. 3

A recent conversation with Bill Traynor and other readings on networks have inspired my thinking about a hypothetical Community Giving Center – a physical and virtual network of and for generous people.  Hopefully the ideas will inspire other community philanthropy groups.

So, what’s a Community Giving Center about?  In my first two posts (here and here), it was about  the right physical environment, the culture of reciprocity, low-level affiliation, and open architecture.  In addition…

It’s about “weaving not managing” – And, it’s about leadership focused on network building over managing or institution building.  Traynor talked about the importance of his staff and other neighborhood leaders being “network weavers.”  Their purpose is to grow their community’s capacity for collective decision-making, problem-solving, and information sharing.  The Networked Weaving blog says that weavers connect people strategically where there’s potential for mutual benefit, help people identify their passions, and serve as a catalyst for self-organizing groups.

I love the idea of people dedicated to growing and connecting others’ philanthropic problem-solving skills.  Many community foundations, giving circles, and donor groups strive for this.  However, I see them often caught up in focusing on the grant transaction process.  After the grants, the donors may understand little more about their individual hopes or how to achieve them not just as donors, but as connected citizens, community leaders, volunteers, and people of faith.

What if your local community foundation hired “network weavers” instead of “program officers” and “donor service officers”?  Or, what if philanthropy network weavers were co-hired by the community foundation, United Way, and local wealth and estate planning advisors? What if their charge was to be a trusted resource to increase community giving, regardless of the outcome for their employer(s) and regardless of their personal or organizational agendas?

It’s about mobilizing resources around resonance – the article “Working Wikily” describes how networks (online and in-person) make it easier to mobilize people and to coordinate resources and action.  In The Networked Nonprofit, Beth Kanter and Allison Fine discuss how nonprofits can work with networks and even “free agents,” passionate givers working outside of organizations.

Bill Traynor talked about how his network-based organization is striving to be more demand-driven, deriving new programs and community agendas from trends in choices the network members make or desires they voice.  Bill uses what he calls “resonance testing,” a process through which his staff members help community residents formulate ideas, test if there’s interest in the idea in the larger network, and then test if there’s willingness to act on the idea.  The process builds authentic buy-in but also creates a low threshold for letting an idea go if there’s no resonance or ongoing purpose.

It’s easy for a nonprofit or grantmaker to set an agenda and then go after other people’s money to accomplish the agenda.  (Score points in philanthropy buzzword bingo by calling it “seeking aligned co-investors to move the needle in a community change agenda”).  However, these agendas only make a lasting different when a broad set of well-connected community stakeholders own them.  Using great stakeholder engagement, as advocated by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, is a start but isn’t enough.  Truly effective and lasting community improvement will draw from the power of resonance testing and resource mobilization by a network of generous people.

What if community philanthropy groups mobilized community resources based on resonance testing rather than boring needs assessments?  What if they put their own philanthropic resources behind the action of free agents and helped weave those agents together?

I think a great Community Giving Center would be a hub for weaving generous people and helping them test their own ideas for engaging others in community change.  Is this too uncontrollable “power to the people” for you yet?  Maybe, but ultimately it’s about trust and true generosity – more next week!

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