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A Hiatus

Building Nonprofit Networks--Part Five: Creating Value

Network_1 For the past several days I've been exploring three types of nonprofit networks and the characteristics/features of each. Yesterday we discussed the need for networks to have a collective value proposition, which I promised to explore in more detail today.

According to NetGains:

"As goes the collective value proposition, so goes the network. The collective value proposition is what makes the network greater than the sum of its parts. As Heather Creech points out, 'If the network serves only as an umbrella for a collection of individual projects, it is not realizing its added value potential.' A collective value proposition is a commitment to joint value creation by network members."

How Do Networks Create Value for Members?
According to NetGains, collective value is a two-way street. Often when organizations begin to create a network, they are "organization-centric" in their thinking, considering mostly what they can get from the network, rather than what they can offer to the network. But to be successful, there must be a give and take in value creation--if everyone is there to take, there will be nothing to get. A collective interest must be forged, one that satisfies both your interests and the interests of others.

Networks can create value in four ways:

  • Connections--Connecting others in the network to people who may be able and willing to help them.
  • Knowledge--Bringing valuable information that others may not posses to the network.
  • Competencies--Providing skills that others may need.
  • Resources--Providing access to resources or funds that may add value for network members.

Collective value is created by the synergy of these four value options and how each individual network member finds and creates value through these options. What is critical to understand here is that it's the collective value that makes the network. Each network member must find at least one thing that they value from their membership in the network that is shared by other network members. They must also be willing to GIVE to the network in a way that creates value for the other members.

Further, network members must be willing and able to give up a degree of their own individuality and autonomy to buy into the collective vision that is created through membership in the network. Otherwise, as Heather Creech notes above, the network will not reach its true potential.

Collective Value in Connectivity Networks
Remember that connectivity networks are the foundation of all networks. They are formed to link people to people and people to information. Obviously then, the collective value propositions for those involved in a connectivity network will begin with the people and information each member can bring to the network.

Getting members to share both their information and their connections can be a challenge for network organizers. In my experience, there can be something of a "proprietary" flavor to what individual nonprofits are doing. Particularly in a competitive funding environment there's often a reluctance to share either information or connections. Yet failure to do so will doom a fledgling network to failure, as it is the access to information and people that motivates most network members in the first place.

The other issue here is how to make sharing of information and connections easy for members to do. This is where the presence of "weavers"--individuals who are in charge of making the linkages within the network and bringing in more network members--is critical. This is also where technology tools, such as e-mail newsletters, wikis and blogs, can play a role.

Creating Collective Value in Affinity and Production Networks
Affinity networks, remember, grow out of connectivity networks. They are organized around a set of shared values, approaches, etc. In other words, around a collective value proposition. Production networks then take this collective value one step further and translate it into joint action.

Affinity and production networks will continue to need the value that's created by people and knowledge. But in addition, they will also need members to create value based on competencies and resources. This is particularly important with production networks because they rely on the skills and resources of their members to get work done.

As with connectivity networks, the challenges for affinity and production networks lie in facilitating the process of sharing value contributions to create collective value. Careful attention must be paid to ensuring that individual members are monitoring "process," finding out who has what to offer to the network, and making linkages that can create new value for network members. Both face-to-face and technological strategies are necessary to accomplish this.

The Importance of Multiple Collective Value Propositions
While networks can be formed around a single collective value proposition, most networks find that they need to offer multiple  options  because different organizations will generally want and need different things. One nice example of this is Lawrence Communityworks, a network of more than 1,600 residents of Lawrence, MA:

". . . (the program) offers multiple value propositions through its many different programs for members. 'They are designed to draw people into the network,' explains Bill Traynor. 'They are doors into the network. Having many different doors is critical because it increases the chances that someone will find a reason to join the network.'"

Network organizers recognize that a key to network-building is paying ongoing attention to the value that members derive from their membership in the network. Different individuals and different organizations will find that they are drawn to the various ways they can be involved in the network, as well as the different benefits they find through their membership. The challenge is to continue to identify these needs and refine the ways in which the network is able to create and communicate this collective meaning.

In the next post on this topic, I'm going to take a look at the five developmental tasks of a network and how these play out.

Above, Original image: 'Lindsey's'
by: Kristine


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