In their recent paper, A Network Approach to Capacity, Jennifer Chandler, National Council of Nonprofits, and Kristen Scott Kennedy, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, reflect on their experiences building nonprofit capacity. Chandler and Kennedy use case studies across the nonprofit sector to demonstrate how those participating in networks leverage resources and knowledge much more effectively than those who do not. While new nonprofits generally wait to engage in networks for various reasons, many case studies demonstrate that involvement from any point in organizational history will harness capacity for growth within the organization and in the network as a whole.
They identify four key lessons for organizations looking to build capacity through networks.
- Focus on current needs. Organizations should take advantage of opportunities that benefit their current needs rather than getting lost in the endless possibilities a network provides.
- Peer learning is essential. Staff should take part in peer-to-peer learning avoid duplicating the past mistakes of others.
- Utilize technology. Again, this can prevent duplicating mistakes and promote best practices by connecting staff to one another in real time, regardless of the countless miles that may separate them.
- Make peer-learning last. Building relationships means individuals are more likely to share their all-around experiences, success and failures, to create meaningful dialogue around best practices.
The benefits to taking part in a network are reciprocal. Organizations are able to harness their greatest potential and grow at a faster rate and in return, networks become stronger and more effective to more organizations and their staff members. This reinforcing relationship is the power of networks to build capacity.