Cracking the Network Code: Four Principles for Grantmakers

  • June 26, 2013

We know that we need a different mindset to tackle complex, systemic challenges. The sector has been experimenting with new ways to solve intractable problems; coalition and community building, collaboration, collective impact and networks have risen as waves of experimentation that are gradually yielding success. The leaders in these actions — actually, groups of leaders — are figuring it out. They are working together so that hard-won gains take root. These leaders succeed by adopting a “network mindset” that enables profound change. This publication sets out to crack the code behind that mindset, empowering grantmakers and other leaders to succeed at building networks for social change.

Over the past four decades, the nonprofit sector has matured into a major social force with a well-developed professional class, often delivering excellent results. We know much more about the practices of effective nonprofit organizations. The list of successes is long, and it’s a safe bet that today’s nonprofit and philanthropic organizations are, on average, better managed than ever. Yet many social and environmental problems have seen only limited improvements, or in some cases they have worsened.

Typically, the leaders who get involved in networks did not set out to create a network. They set out to solve a problem that other attempts had failed to solve. In the words of one grantmaker, “Even though every year our spending was increasing, we became convinced that grantmaking organization by organization was not making real change.” This particular foundation was driven toward transformative change, and it set about to make that happen by fostering several state wide networks to tackle a range of issues. Others interviewed described the alchemy that occurs when passion for change mixes with total frustration with the status quo. The network mindset ensues as a sort of chemical reaction. Frustration and vision push leaders toward an approach that is more likely to deliver results at the massive scale they seek.

Catalyzing Networks for Social Change, published by GEO and the Monitor Institute in 2011, provided an orientation for grantmakers to understand networks for social change and the potential impact of embracing networked ways of working. In February 2013, GEO and four partners published Pathways to Grow Impact, which noted that grantmaker support for networks is useful no matter what strategy organizations are using to grow their impact. In this publication, we dig deeper into the mindset shifts necessary to be an effective network participant and offer practical recommendations for how grantmakers can support networks.


Cracking the Network Code: Four Principles for Grantmakers

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