Network Leadership: five steps to strengthening your network

Network Leadership: five steps to strengthening your network

This guest post from the YNPN National Leaders Conference comes to us from Sarah Kinser, founding co-chair of YNPN Little Rock and communications director for Arkansas Community Foundation. You can find her on Twitter @sarahkinser.

How can you build a movement to create meaningful change?

That's the question underlying Marissa Tirona's presentation on network leadership  at this year''s CompassPoint Nonprofit Day conference. Tirona, senior project director for CompassPoint offered a primer on this emerging leadership model, which emphasizes creating change through open collaboration, experimentation and shared leadership.

The practical takeaways for YNPN members?

1. Map your network. How connected are you, really? Take a snapshot of your network by plotting out connections with individuals and organizations on a web. You'll be able to visualize trends and patterns in the way people connect, and you'll be able to identify key partners who can help you extend your network's reach.

Set a goal to reach out to less-connected members of your web to help them establish more relationships, or target a few new organizations to add to your web.

Tirona recommends plotting your network map using, a free online tool for mind-mapping and brainstorming.

2. Identify "network weavers". Help your network thrive by recruiting leaders who will build and nurture connections. Every team needs:

  • Weavers/Connectors who excel in meeting new contacts (people) and matching people with others who share overlapping interests.
  • Project Coordinators who manage tasks, keep ideas moving forward, and maintain contact with team members.
  • Network Facilitators who convene people and help focus the network.
  • Network Guardians who nurture the network by establishing systems, communications processes, and resources.
It's not necessary for every team member to possess every skill. Tirona notes, "You can identify other people who have those skills and behaviors and competences and bring them together into a team".
3. De-centralize communication. One of the key ways network leadership differs from traditional organizational leadership is its assumption that anyone and everyone is a potential leader. Leadership is shared fluidly based on the situation and the skills needed at the moment.

That means everyone has to be in the know! Rather than holding key institutional knowledge within a central insider group, network leadership advocates throwing open the doors to create transparency and share knowledge. Within your organization, you can institutionalize communication practices that keep the entire network informed via social media, wikis, blogs, open meetings or member summits.

4. Position yourself (or your organization) to be a collaborator.Tirona says that one of the best ways to build your network is to start by listening. For YNPN chapters, that might mean taking a tour of nonprofits to hear about their work and to ask what services the YNPN chapter could offer that would be beneficial to their employees, or conducting a survey of other key organizations working to build the local nonprofit sector to learn about how their services overlap with, or are distinct from, YNPN's. Starting the conversation by listening creates an open space where natural partnerships can form.

 5. Learn more. Tirona recommends these resources for nonprofiteers interested in learning more about network leadership:

How is your chapter working to expand its network and share leadership?

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