Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” That’s a message those of us in nonprofit should take to heart. People working together and sharing knowledge in order to help solve an issue and/or help our community is much more effective than one person trying to carry the load on his/her own. Nonprofit work is not easy, especially when it’s a small nonprofit. It requires us to wear many hats, work long hours, work with limited resources… When we work together, we leverage our resources and we strengthen our organizations. Often times, it leads to creative solutions, unexpected support, and partnerships that are mutually beneficial. That kind of synergy, however, doesn’t happen overnight. To get to that stage, we first need to build a network of support. There are two types: an “open network” and a “closed network.” A closed network is one created with organizations that either serve the same population or provide similar services. A closed network appears easier to create because people already know of each other. It’s also easier to get things done since you share a common understanding for the population you serve. A closed group sees the world through the same color lens, they share a common vocabulary and know the same unspoken rules. This is good, but it can get a little too comfortable. An open network, on the other hand, is one created with organizations that are different from yours. Their services are different and the population they serve is different as well. At first glance, it doesn’t seem logical to create a network with organizations that have nothing in common with your own, but at the operational level, we share many similarities. We all manage staff, write grants, fundraise, manage our budgets, pay bills, etc. In my opinion, having an open network is as important as having a closed network. An open network provides insight and connections across multiple fields and forces us to think “outside the box.” For example, one of the services Community Partners in Caring (CPC) provides is minor home repairs. Unfortunately, these days, we don’t have many volunteers willing to do that kind of volunteer work. In my quest to find a solution, I sought the help of two individuals that belong to my open network. Coincidentally, one of them knew of a local contractor that was teaching youth to do minor home repairs. He knew of this contractor because they both share an interest in helping youth. Within minutes, I was given the contractors name and phone number. It’s too early to tell if a joint project is possible, but there is interest on both sides. In addition, there is the potential of connecting CPC with other contractors.
Whether it’s a closed or open network, the point is to build a network with people who are willing to share, just as you are, best practices, contacts, expertise, sample materials, are willing to provide developmental feedback, share social media marketing strategies… and are willing to push you to build a better/stronger organization.