The 59 Smartest Orgs Online
Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants #27 Is Up

Building Nonprofit Networks Part Six: Creating Collective Value with Individuals

Before I went on my little sabbatical earlier this month, I'd been working on a series devoted to Nonprofit Networking based on NetGains. In that last post, I talked about the need to create a collective value propositions in networks because it is the perception of value that makes a network greater than the sum of its parts. I had planned to next write about the developmental tasks of a network, but began to think more about collective value propositions and with whom we end up forming those.

In my previous posts, we talked primarily about networks formed with other nonprofits. There's a strong need for us to do this better and it's an avenue we need to continue to pursue.

But I believe that increasingly, our opportunities for growth, resources and collective action may lie in forming networks with individuals, particularly through the Internet. Yes, we need to find ways for nonprofits to work together better, but some of the most successful organizations right now are those that have figured out how to form collective value propositions with individuals, rather than with other nonprofit organizations. And this is possible only because of the new breed of web-based tools that have created a more interactive and participatory online culture. 

Creating Collective Value By Forming Networks with Individuals
Remember, there are four ways to create value in a network:

  • Providing connections to the right people
  • Sharing valuable knowledge
  • Providing access to skills and competencies of other network members
  • Providing access to resources that may be useful to other members

Yesterday, I shared the list of the 59 Smartest Organizations Online, developed by NetSquared, Squidoo and GetActive.  Many of the organizations on the list are there in part because they have made innovative use of the web to form more open and creative networks with constituents.  For example:

  • Several of the nonprofits on the list provide opportunities for micro-donations. Kiva allows donors to lend small amounts of capital to specific entrepreneurs they wish to support, thus providing value both through creating connections between the right people and access to resources for the entrepreneurs. ASPCA and  Modest Needs are other examples of nonprofits using micro-donation opportunities to foster collective value and action.
  • An example of a network that is leveraging the skills and competencies of individual members is Witness. Formed to encourage video documentation of human rights abuses around the world, Witness provides training and on-line resources that prepare people to videotape violations of human rights. Videographers can then upload their videos to the site, creating a comprehensive video library that can be accessed both by the public and by all members.
  • World is a nonprofit devoted primarily to bringing together world-changing ideas, resources and people. As their manifesto states, " works from a simple premise: that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it's here. We only need to put the pieces together." Their site uses blogging and commenting to share ideas and encourage individual ongoing conversations about ways to change the world, thus forming collective value around a wide variety of propositions.
  • Freedom Toaster is an unusual South African project devoted to putting vending machines throughout South Africa that are preloaded to dispense free digital products, including software, photography, music and literature. Their site provides all of the documentation necessary to built, install, maintain and customize Freedom Toasters, empowering users to create their own wherever they want. This is a network that is basically putting the tools, resources and competencies necessary to create the product into the hands of anyone prepared to act.

To me, a big part of the message here is that technology is enabling nonprofits to pursue the creation of new value propositions and the formation of new networks. Some organizations, like the ones I mentioned above, were created in part to take advantage of the ways that web technologies now foster collective value and action. But even more "traditional" nonprofits are benefiting from engaging individuals in support of their cause through smart use of the Web. The Sierra Club, GreenPeace, The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the ASPCA have all been around for years and each is working hard to better engage individuals in supporting their cause, not just through financial donations, but through collective productive action.

I believe that success in nonprofit networking requires us to do a better job of creating and nurturing networks of nonprofits. But I also believe that long-term survival and success may ultimately lie in our ability to create new and better networks with individuals. This means we need to pay attention to how we can create value and network connections in arenas where we may never have worked before.



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