Guest post from Annie Hernandez
The day I heard about the concept for this gathering of grant makers I knew I had to be involved. As a member of the planning committee, I became even more geeked out about this intimate, interactive learning opportunity. It totally lived up to and exceeded my expectations.
In May of 2008 when I joined The Lumpkin Family Foundation I was given the challenge to figure out how to develop a network to support the nonprofit capacity building work of The Foundation in downstate Illinois. After reading the book The Spider and the Starfish, the Lumpkjn family had been inspired to not follow the recommended model of endowing a nonprofit center at the local university.
Accepting this challenge, I entered the network weaver role with intermediary partners to develop what has become the nonprofit network and online community, goodWORKSconnect.org. We are a little over two years old and over 1,000 members strong. The effort is currently undergoing an evaluation which will direct its geographic focus and future online presence.
I came to this gathering wanting to learn more about how other funders were approaching network development–specifically how they are assessing and sustaining networks. I was quickly affirmed in that there are more questions than answers in this work. Here is the advice I am taking away:
- We need to give more time, money and value to relationship building, especially developing the network weaving skills of members. (looks like I will be one of the first in line for June Holley’s new handbook: www.network weaver.com). I appreciated the acknowledgement that the life stage of a network dictates the importance of this.
- We need to do more experiments to actively work to get The Foundation out of the center of the hub. As long as we are the staff and financial support for the effort, it will not be fully sustained without us. I was moved by the story for the Boston Youth Sports Initiative (LINK TO MY PREVIOUS BLOG POST) where once the funding ended, much of the effort halted. I feel an obligation to embed our network within the network as deeply as possible for its longterm success.
- At the time we built our online community, it made sense to develop the platform we did. With two years under our belt or people using the tool…and the advances of other online communities like Facebook and LinkedIn, I am even more inspired to make sure we are where people already are by reshaping our community to leverage resources like Idea Encore Network (www.ideaencore.com) which I learned about at the gathering.
- We need to continue to collect as much information as possible about the how the network is making a difference while acknowledging the we can’t take credit or know all the impacts in this work. Networks are naturally elegant and need to be informal for a while. We need to figure out how this ties into our evaluation “dashboard” that will be developed from our current evaluation process and stay flexible.
- We need to determine ways to build reciprocity into our work. What do members give to get? This would help ensure we are more demand driven–only spending precious time on the things people want.
As I head home to one of our experiments of transitioning the goodWORKSconnect network–the Illinois Nonprofit Conference in partnership with the Donors Forum–I am thankful to all the generous co-attendees that have left me with a renewed spirit for experimenting in this messy, complex and critical work.
I would welcome your feedback and additional advice for how to assess and sustain networks.