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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 (, 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.

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