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Q&A: Network-Based Strategy

Many networks are looking for a more decentralized approach so that network members can learn from one another. How can you help network members better connect with each other?

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Nonprofit strategy is hard. To do it well, we must make tough decisions and trade-offs. Yet the data we have access to don’t always tell a clear story, and every stakeholder has a different idea of what we should do. On top of this, policies, the economy, and technologies around us are changing so quickly. I know these struggles because I’ve been there myself, and at Community Wealth Partners, we’ve worked with hundreds of nonprofits as they’ve navigated these questions.

The good news is that again and again, we see examples of how the nonprofits we partner with are adopting strategies that are leading to greater impact. We recently launched a strategy newsletter to give you another place to explore the complex work of creating strategies that are bold and possible, to learn from our team, and to hear what peers are doing.

In our newsletter, we responded to a question we hear often from clients. Below, I’ve shared that question and my response. If you find this post valuable, please consider subscribing to our strategy newsletter. Reach out to me with your questions, topics you’d like to see us cover, or stories and resources you’d like to share.

 

QUESTION: My organization plays a coordinating role within a large, national network. We realize our role is needed and helpful, yet we feel like we are becoming the de facto “hub,” which limits opportunities for learning across the network. We’d like to see a more decentralized approach so that network members can learn from one another. How can we help network members better connect with each other?

 

Amy Celep (CEO): You’re absolutely right. When network members connect with each other, they can exchange ideas and insights to work more effectively. I’ll offer three recommendations and one example for how you can help network members connect with each other.

  1. Be explicit about your desire for network members to learn and share with each other. This will help them feel ownership of the network’s learning.
  2. Take time to understand your network’s learning needs and expectations. You’ve probably spent a lot of time doing this, but challenge what you’ve learned to date. Ask new questions, send new messengers, and test possible learning structures with network members. Make sure you can resource and sustain whatever learning structures you decide to create, and be transparent if you’re piloting something that you may not continue to support.
  3. Foster a culture of learning and information sharing. To do that, partner with some of the network’s most influential members to co-create structures and processes that enable learning and meet your network’s needs. Based on what network members share, you might build – and resource – peer learning groups, coaching relationships, and other intentional structures for network members to connect with and learn from each other.

One example of what this can look like comes from the national nonprofit FoodCorps, which works with an aligned-action network of independent partners. As Director of Impact Eva Ringstrom shared in this webinar, at each of FoodCorps’ in-person gatherings, they design opportunities for network members to identify the topics that matter most to them – regardless of whether those topics are directly connected to FoodCorp’s work – and they dedicate time for learning and sharing on those topics. We often overlook opportunities to create space for others to learn and share, and it takes humility to put decision-making power into network members’ hands.

Learn more about network strategy in our field guide and watch our webinar here and below.

 

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