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Integrating a Network Mindset into Grantmaking: Part 2
March 1, 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 is the second of a two-part blog post that explores "network weaving" skills. In Part 1, we looked at how grantmakers can incorporate these activities into daily practice. This second post explores how to use social networking tools to visualize your network, examines why changing our practice is so hard, and looks at how grantmakers can overcome the challenge.

Beth Kanter

Visualize your network. An important technique is to visualize your network. Steve Waddell, in talking about the value of mapping networks for systemic change, asserts that maps are most useful as tools to generate discussion about "what is," "what can be," and "what needs to change." Looking at your network map while thinking of gaps can be an insightful step.

Mapping Your LinkedIn Network

Recently LinkedIn created this free social network analysis mapping tool that lets you see your LinkedIn network and better understand relationships between you and your network. The most powerful feature of the map is that allows you to peer into your network, notice connections, and to remind yourself of people you know but may not have thought about in years.

As an exercise, we used the mapping to visualize our networks and ask these questions:

  • What patterns do you see?
  • What surprises you?
  • What might you do differently with your network?

I learned a lot by browsing through the visual network. My network is dense because I'm connected to a lot of well-connected people. What surprised me most about my map was how densely connected the nonprofit technology field was. Viewing my whole network in this visual format helped me remember people who I haven't been in touch with and their knowledge.

Using the map with a specific question about a gap is far more valuable exercise. I make a lot of referrals and I tend to get in ruts, but using the LinkedIn map as a spark to think of new people was useful.

Why Is It So Hard?

During the discussion, we all agreed that incorporating network weaving tasks into daily work requires conscious effort, especially if these activities are not called out specifically in a staff performance plan. One grantmaker shared that they have indicators around growing their professional network and have begun to celebrate staff members using social networking tools to do so. For example, a staff person recently received special recognition for reaching over 1,000 followers on Twitter.

There are a few personal and organizational challenges:

Information Overload: The issue is about being able to shift between connectedness and solitude. Once we are able to do this in discrete ways, we can avoid the feeling of anxiety that might come from being confronted with a lot of unstructured information.

Time Consuming: Learning new skills does take time to develop a habit, and then it becomes less time consuming because you don't have to think about the skill so much. Stephen Covey says it takes 23 days to make habit. One way to start is to focus on a new network weaving skill each month. Write it down on a sticky note, put it on your computer, and try to use that skill once a day.

Steep Learning Curve: Learning curves become steep when we try to take on too much at once. Try to break down the task. Also, having a peer group or a colleague who is learning the skill with you helps with motivation.

Few Incentives: How many of you have "network weaving" as a formal part of our jobs? Network weaving tasks are not typically linked to KPI, or even the informal on the job learning techniques that are such an important part of network weaving.

Internal Systems: Several grantmakers mentioned that their systems for sharing information internally—information that isn't necessarily confidential—cause them to do "double duty" if they want to share with the field.

How have you put a network mindset into practice? What online tools have you used? What are the barriers and how have you overcome them?

— Beth Kanter


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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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