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How do I exit a network?

Whether it’s because of an internal change, the network’s evolution, or simply the funding timeline, it is common for funders to reach a point when they need to exit a network. Some seasoned network funders believe it’s important to have an exit strategy in mind from the beginning of engaging with a network, on the basis that it helps focus the network’s efforts and provides ample warning for the funder’s eventual departure. But many we spoke with argued that planning that far ahead was neither necessary nor productive, because networks are capable of such dramatic transformation.

Our research and experience indicates that just as in every other way that you engage with a network, openness and honesty are an asset in planning your exit. If you are up-front and continually communicate about what financial and backbone support you have at your disposal, what hard limits you face, and what factors will shape your choice of how long to stay, the participants will have all the information they need to plan.
We have also seen that exiting a network need not be a sudden event, and often is not. While financial support can often only be provided for a defined period of time, grantmakers are often able to continue providing a measure of backbone support. Grantmakers can continue drawing on the relationships they’ve built, their knowledge of the surrounding context, and the perspective they’ve developed about the network’s future direction, and are able to use those assets to advise the network with a relatively lightweight investment of their time.

In favor of determining your exit strategy upfront

“A perennial question of all the work that we do is how to get out. The problem is, maybe it’s just something about human nature: it’s hard to think about how you’re going to get out as you’re getting in.”Charlanne Burke, The Rockefeller Foundation

“The fact that we will never be a permanent funder in a place has always been a useful tool to help us focus and help our partners focus and think beyond reliance on one funder. Having this exit deadline has helped us and the network figure out how to be more efficient before we leave.” Meaghan Calcari Campbell, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

In favor of determining your exit strategy as you go along

“You have to have flexibility about the back end, without losing sight of timeline and goals, and be willing to consider rethinking them based on the particular network you create.”Dave Ferrero, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

“We will have to see what comes from these next couple of years [of this San Joaquin Valley leadership network]. We’re open to what we might learn and open to continuing to support the network as it evolves.” Amy Dominguez-Arms, The James Irvine Foundation