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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


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Beth, Thanks for contributing to Transparency Talk and for kindly including a hyperlink for those of us who didn't immediately know what "rhizomatic" meant! One thing I have been observing and reflecting on as of late is how poorly developed philanthropy's tools are for supporting nteworking/collaboration among grantees. Maybe there is a relationships between the knowledge and practice or networking techniques between foundations and their ability to support netorking in the outside world.

Thank you! Quite helpful.

Christine: Thanks for sharing that! I think many nonprofits as well as foundations are looking for ways to step into this new way of working. Last week I attended the TechSoup Global Summit where the whole discuss was on this topic ---

Beth: Thanks for the post. I look forward to part II. Last Friday I attended the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Golden Gate chapter) event titled "Trends in Foundation Giving: How to Compete in Today’s Marketplace." Along the lines of your blog article, foundation leaders who participated expressed the need for the philanthropic community to explore new ways to collaborate to improve grantmaking effectiveness.

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  • Transparency Talk, the GlassPockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Candid highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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