Building Capacity Through Networks

Alan Collins, former vice president of HR at Pepsi and Quaker Oats and author of Unwritten HR Rules, once said, “Pulling a good network together takes effort, sincerity and time.” The results are well worth it.

In their paper A Network Approach to Capacity Building (www.councilofnonprofits.org/tools-resources/network-approach-capacity-building), Jennifer Chandler and Kristen Scott Kennedy compile case studies, from the Colorado Collaborative of Nonprofits network to the Washington Nonprofits’ Finance Unlocked for Nonprofits, that demonstrate how nonprofits participating in a network can leverage resources and knowledge to build capacity more effectively than those that “go it alone.” Indeed, as network members become engaged, the network itself begins to constitute a valuable “bank account” of relationships that contributes to compounding the network’s collective capacity.

    For leaders looking to strategically leverage networks to build capacity, the authors share the following lessons:

  1. Understand your organization’s priorities. Matching your capacity-building efforts to the needs of your organization is critical. Understanding and weighing the return on investment of capacity-building opportunities and using a network as a sounding board can help you establish priorities and make your nonprofit better informed about a capacity-building initiative.
  2. Learn from your peers. Avoid the mistake of constantly reinventing the wheel. Leverage your organization’s participation in a network to learn from other nonprofit leaders. Seeing a problem from others’ perspectives can offer alternatives to overcoming challenges.
  3. Utilize technology. In today’s world, who can ignore the role of technology in learning across a diffuse network? Networks are especially well-suited to using Web-based knowledge-sharing and collaboration tools, allowing network members over a wide geographical area to connect in real time.
  4. Make it last. Trusted and enduring relationships help organizations and individuals to initiate dialogue and encourage shared knowledge exchanges over a longer period of time. They also prompt participants to explore their own personal learning journeys and connect more easily with fellow participants.