Sunday, March 30, 2008

Increasing Impact by Cultivating Networks

The Spring 08 Stanford Social Innovation Review article “The Networked Nonprofit” focuses on how nonprofits can greatly increase their impact – not by getting bigger or raising more money for their organization -- but by cultivating networks with others that have a shared mission.

Some great quotes from the article..
“By mobilizing resources outside their immediate control, networked nonprofits achieve their missions far more efficiently, effectively, and sustainably than they could have by working alone.”

“Management wisdom says that nonprofits must be large and in charge to do the most good. But some of the world’s most successful organizations instead stay small, sharing their load with like-minded, long-term partners. The success of these networked nonprofits suggests that organizations should focus less on growing themselves and more on cultivating networks.”

“Many traditional nonprofits form short-term partnerships with superficially similar organizations to execute a single program, exchange a few resources, or attract funding. In contrast, networked nonprofits forge long-term partnerships with trusted peers to tackle their missions on multiple fronts.”

The article presents case studies of three non profits who increased their impact by cultivating these types of networks. To do this, they had to see the shared mission as the hub of the network and their organization as a node, rather than their organization as the hub.

One example they studied is the microfinancier - Women’s World Banking. By cultivating networks with other banks and microlenders they went from reaching 50,000 clients and lending @ $25 million through network affiliates in 1990 to lending 18 million people over $8.5 billion in 2003 – a more than 350-fold increase! And how much did they grow their own budget and staff? They went from 16 employees in 1993 to 50 employees in 2003, and from an organizational budget of $3 million in 1993 to $10 million in 2003. This is clearly not about going to scale by doing the same thing for the same costs to more people. This is about exponential growth by collaborating in meaningful ways with others who share a common mission. Other examples they discuss in this article, Habitat for Humanity in Egypt, and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA) a United Kingdom based non profit. This article is well worth a read.

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