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February 2011 (3 posts)

Integrating a Network Mindset into Grantmaking: Part 1
February 22, 2011

Beth Kanter is the author of Beth's Blog, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits, and co-author of the highly acclaimed book, The Networked Nonprofit, published by J. Wiley in 2010.

This two-part blog post explores "network weaving" skills and how grantmakers can overcome the challenge of transfer and incorporate these activities into daily practice. This post also looks at how social network tools can facilitate network weaving.

Beth KanterI've been participating in The Network of Networked Funders, a community of practice for grantmakers facilitated by the Monitor Institute. These grantmakers are supporting and working through networks to pool their learning and increase the impact of their respective grantmaking practices. In late 2011, Funder's Guide to Networks will synthesize the knowledge and publish a print publication for the broader field of philanthropy.

Courtesy: jolivacea

The knowledge about best practices for working with networks is being actively and transparently shared in real time through social media channels. This post summarizes a conversation and exercise we recently did to look at how grantmakers can strengthen grantee networks through intentional "network weaving" techniques. The purpose of the exercise was to explore how to get past the challenge of integrating these techniques and tools into daily practice.

1. Think about your current work. Brainstorm a list of the content areas and tasks in your current job as a grantmaker. What is it that you need to know or be able to do as a program officer or other functional area? Here are a few starters:

  • Staying informed in the field
  • Developing program strategy
  • Exploring potential opportunities
  • Conducting due diligence
  • Managing grantee relationships
  • Assessing impact

2. Identify Specific Network Weaving Techniques To Integrate. Network weaving is the process of making connections between people and groups in a network. It can be done online and offline. June Holley, an expert in networks who also facilitates a community of practice of network weavers, defines some of these qualities and skills of network weavers.

Let's look at a few:

Work Transparently: The more public you are, the easier you can be found, and the more opportunities you have. Of course, everything doesn't have to be public, but not everything needs to be closed. One small step towards transparency is letting go of information (that isn't confidential). Don't wait for people to ask—share it through social networks.

Convene: This is bringing together small groups of stakeholders to give you input and feedback—from designing programs to planning. These can be done offline and online.

Engage New Perspectives: We tend to stay in our comfort zones and don't engage different perspectives—learning from adjacent practices can be useful.

Close Triangles: This is the practice of introducing people in your network to one another. You need to let them know why you are making the introduction. These can be done both online and offline.

Post Questions to Individuals and the Crowd: Social network tools make it very easy to ask questions to individuals and groups of individuals. By posting a question on your Facebook Status, LinkedIn Q/A, or Twitter, you can informally and quickly get answers. There is a new social network, Quora, that is built on the concept of asking and answering questions.

Share Learning: To share learning, you have to intentionally hit the pause button and reflect. One way to incorporate this technique into your day is to set aside five minutes at the end of the day for reflection. Blogs are terrific vehicles for sharing what you've learned.

Model Network Weaving: Network weaving encourages rhizomatic behavior, so what better way then to model the techniques for others.

3. Identify the gaps. Looking at the items in #1, think about the gaps. Where are you falling short? Where can network weaving techniques help you bring value to your work? This conversation leads to rich observations about the value of network weaving.

Network weaving techniques can help grantmakers keep informed of their program area, but also the broader field of philanthropy. It is especially valuable in a time of fewer resources, where funders are often in engaged in conversations about bringing other resources to the issues they support.

These techniques are used in working with networks of grantees to achieve better outcomes. Says one grantmaker, "I'm involved in a network of domestic violence agencies. We have goals around strengthening and increasing the number of connections with housing providers. A big part of my job is to foster those connections."

Finally, network weaving can also be used internally to help make connections or encourage more transparent sharing of learning.

What value does network weaving offer your work as a foundation staff person?

In Part 2 of the blog post, we'll explore how to use some social networking tools to visualize your network and examine why changing our practice is so hard.

— Beth Kanter

Putting the Pieces Back Together
February 14, 2011

(Dr. Albert Ruesga is the president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, as well as the editor of The White Courtesy Telephone—a popular blog about foundations and nonprofits. In September 2010, Dr. Ruesga was featured as a "Social Media Power User" in the Foundation Center survey, "Are Foundations Using Social Media?")

Ruesga-150After the storms of 2005, the City of New Orleans lost a significant amount of its population.  Our pre-Katrina population of 455,000 shrank to 209,000 in July 2006, recovering slightly to 355,000 by July 2009.  We know that many New Orleanians who moved away maintained close ties to the city. They visited family members and friends who had stayed behind.  They followed the city's sports teams.  Their ears pricked up at any news from the region.

Many of us in the City continue to feel a strong bond to our former residents.  One of the things we aimed to do with our social media work here at the Greater New Orleans Foundation was to connect with these New Orleanians in the diaspora—not only those who left after the storms, but those who left the city for a variety of reasons, seeking opportunities for themselves and their families in other parts of the country.  The City's experience with Katrina taught residents the importance of strong social networks, the people-to-people connections that were so important to New Orleans's recovery after the breaking of the levees.  At the same time, we wanted to introduce our work to new audiences, especially the mostly younger people who like to stay in touch using Facebook and Twitter.

And so, with these goals in mind, we went into our social media work with eyes wide open. We began using a variety of tools, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a blog. We were pleased to see our networks grow quickly, thanks to our staff's very thoughtful use of these media.  On Twitter, for example, our staff was quick to retweet related content and thank those who retweeted us.  Our tweets were not just about our work, but about content that would interest a broad audience.

Our social networks helped us immensely when tragedy struck our region again in 2010.  We were able to mobilize our supporters after the BP oil spill to help raise over $1 million for short-term relief and longer-term recovery efforts. We went into our social media work never expecting to raise a dime, but it has proven to be a valuable fundraising tool.

A note about transparency. If you visit our web site, you'll notice something fairly unique about most of our pages: we invite comments from the community on almost every one.  And it's one of our policies to respond to each of these comments (either by e-mail or directly on the site) within 48 hours.  We also make it a point to publish not only our grantmaking guidelines and goals, but also our rationales for these guidelines and goals, as well as our theories of change.  You can see an example of this here. We don't mind being completely transparent about our thinking.  Our work can only improve by exposing our assumptions and our reasoning to the light of day.

If you're within the sound of my voice (so to speak), and you have a stake in New Orleans's future, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  You can also read our blog, The Second Line, by visiting www.gnof.org.

And if you want to have a role in helping to make one of the great American cities even greater, y'all come down, hear?

— Albert Ruesga

My Foundation is on Facebook. Now What?
February 7, 2011

(Tina Arnoldi is the director of information management for the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina.)

Tina Arnoldi

You've taken that first step. You heard a lot about Facebook and now understand that it's not just for kids. You may even know the majority of users are over 40. After talking about it for so long, someone in your office has finally set up your foundation's Facebook page. It's official. However, there's nothing on there yet. You have no "likes," no activity, and you're wondering what to do next. Allow me to share a few tips we picked up here at the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina, as we embarked on our own Facebook journey.

First, the basics: is the information on your page filled out completely? We used the space available to briefly explain the mission of our foundation and then provided multiple ways for people to contact us, including our web site and Twitter accounts. We also uploaded a crisp, high-resolution image of our logo.  

When we set up our page, we realized the importance of having more than one page administrator, who has rights to delete spam and add content on behalf of the foundation. Not only was it more manageable to have multiple people adding content and responding to fans, it also ensured that we would be able to maintain our page without interruption in the event that a staff member left our foundation.

Before we told people about the page, we made sure to add some content so we weren't driving traffic to an empty "shell." Our updates include information about what's going on at the foundation and general philanthropic news in our community. For a while, we imported our blog content as well as our CEO's Twitter feed (@GeorgeStevens). Since then, we've also added more conversational posts, such as, "What type of causes do you support?" and, "Are there any fundraisers coming up this week?" We definitely see an increase in the number of people who "like" our page when we share good news. Plus, not having automated content shows people we're engaged and really do spend time on our page.

At our foundation, we also quickly learned that a steady stream of fresh content is important, but not an outreach strategy in and of itself. Think of the ways you currently communicate with your constituents. Do you send e-mail? Add a Facebook link to your signature. Have a printed newsletter? Include a write-up about your new Facebook page. These are all ways we let people know about our page. We also asked foundation staff to share our page with their Facebook contacts. In a short time, we had the minimum number of fans required for a custom Fan Page URL.

Facebook has worked well for us with public events. Not only does it save postage (although we still do paper mailings), it reaches an audience that isn't in our current database. By making events public, we ensure anyone on Facebook can find them and can also invite their friends by sharing the event link. It's a great way for new audiences to learn about our work, and provides an opportunity for visitors to become fans so they're aware of future events. 

Skeptical that your Facebook page can give you results? I recently gave a presentation on social media at one of our library branches. Undeterred by warnings that this branch often sees a very low turnout at events, I posted the event on Facebook under the foundation's page and also shared it with some Facebook friends. I ended up with a very good turnout for that branch. As much as I would like to think it was all me, I know it was the power and ease of sharing information on Facebook that really helped get people in the door.

If you already have a page for your foundation, what are some tips that worked for you?  Did you find your fan base growing quickly around a certain event? What kind of status updates do your fans respond to? I'd love to hear your feedback. This is a great opportunity to learn from each other.

— Tina Arnoldi

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