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Network Your Philanthropy

March 3, 2014


How to get networked: Three shifts you can make this year

An excerpt from Philanthropy Impact Magazine Issue 5: Spring 2014. For the full article click here.

In our experience working with more than 20 different philanthropic groups, it takes three critical shifts to become more networked:

SHIFT 1 Spark the fire
Healthy competition creates an excitement and energy that can spark your network to action. One of the most effective ways to jump-start a network is to launch a crowdsourcing innovation prize challenge. A well-designed prize challenge allows a philanthropist to simultaneously identify new solutions in a particular topic area as well as, even more importantly, to identify and engage with new solution-providers to create an intelligence network.

The Rockefeller Foundation has used prize challenges as a way to discover new approaches to solving tough social problems and to jump-start its network of social innovators around the world. In the spring of 2012, the Rockefeller Foundation launched a global challenge to source new ideas across three topics: youth in farming, irrigation technologies, and data use in urban centers. In just seven weeks, the challenge garnered 1,763 ideas from 112 countries on six continents, with most of the entries coming from the global south and from people new to the Foundation. Building on 2012’s success, the Foundation ran a second challenge in 2013 to source innovations that support people working in the informal economy. This prize generated 2,226 new ideas, over 80% of them from people who learned about the prize through personal and professional relationships. In total, these two challenges resulted in more than 20 new grants, generated thousands of new Twitter followers and hundreds of tools/resources shared by the network, and dramatically increased the Foundation’s overall audience amongst on-the-ground innovators.

SHIFT 2 Give to receive
The key to building a high-performing network is tailored rewards. People are busy. Organisations have competing priorities and are juggling different stakeholders. Your organisation might have to overcome past perceptions about its being unapproachable or uninterested in listening. It is only through a strong reward system that you can encourage a new kind of relationship with your network. In other words, you have to give your network something in order to receive the benefits.

Rewards come in all shapes and sizes. For example, the BMW Foundation in Munich has developed a set of interlocking reputational and experiential rewards for participating in its network. One of the BMW Foundation’s core initiatives is its Responsible Leadership network, a global group of dynamic young leaders who are committed to social change. This 1,600-plus member network is fueled by a series of youth forums held annually in multiple locations around the world. Alumni of previous forums invite new youth to attend each year. The Foundation has also established the Responsible Leaders Awards to further motivate participation in the network. Awardees can profile their stories on the Foundation’s website, are invited to unique Responsible Leader events, and receive both financial and in-kind support from the Foundation and the Foundation’s networks. Through these efforts, the BMW Foundation leverages its staff of 20-plus into an organisation of thousands.

SHIFT 3 Tool up
Once you have been interacting with your network, you will begin to see patterns. You will notice how your members want to connect with you and each other. From there you can begin to create the tools for sustained activation of your network.

A tool currently under construction is the Resilience Platform, an online platform for scaling solutions for social change. An international coalition of partners including Ecotrust, Context Partners, the Grameen Foundation, Mercy Corps, and The Rockefeller Foundation came together to understand how they could better act collectively on behalf of people and the planet. What they learned as they listened inside their organisations was that they each had a wealth of proven solutions, but they had no process – no tool – for documenting, sharing, and transferring these solutions to new contexts. Together, as a network, the coalition is co-designing an online tool to distill complex social solutions into shareable building blocks that span various contexts.

While online tools can be impressive, something as simple as an on-boarding kit allowing new members to understand their roles and responsibilities has proven successful at the Nike Foundation. A unifying twitter hashtag, member-led Google-hangouts, a LinkedIn discussion group… the possibilities for your toolbox are endless and should be tailored to your network’s needs, habits, and interests.

… To read the full text of the article, click here.

Network Your Philanthropy

Kimberly Manno Reott


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