You’ve added an item to your reading list. Continue adding items from around the guide, or export your Reading List

what's in this guide?

What forms of financial and backbone support do networks need?

Networks need not only various forms of financial support from a funder (via grants) but also the backbone support that comes from contributing time, effort, expertise, connections, physical space, and other non-monetary resources. Which forms of support a network needs depends primarily on its stage of development. Even an approximate anticipation of what a network will need can make it far less intimidating to engage.

How can companies participate and provide support for networks? See “Define how a company can participate” (Page 27) in PARTICIPATE: The power of involving business in social impact networks.

The easiest way to anticipate what support a network will need is to use the wheel diagram below to estimate its developmental stage. With that stage in mind, you can consider which of the common supporting roles might be necessary for a given network. Thinking in terms of these stages can also be helpful in providing the network with strategic guidance: it can help you stay focused on what your network needs now while keeping an eye toward what might be coming next.

(These six developmental stages were developed by Monitor Institute out of its work with the Network of Network Funders, a two-year community of practice that hosted some of the first dialogue among grantmakers about the most effective ways to engage with networks.)

Below, we describe 11 different forms of financial support, corresponding to many common grants given to networks, and 15 forms of non-financial backbone support that a network might need. Even if the network is still just a concept in your mind, ask yourself which you expect will be important for the network to form, and think ahead to the later developmental stages to anticipate what it might need in order to progress.

Discover Know Knit Organize Grow Transform Download image

Development Stage: Transform

At a certain point, a network may have run its course, achieved its goal or sees a need to evolve in different ways. In the Transform the network’s core value exchange and definition of the issue can be re-examined. Continually scanning for opportunities to connect to complimentary efforts and networks to grow the movement is key here.

Development Stage: Grow

Growing the network is about bringing on new members, if needed, as well as growing deeper trust and connectivity with existing participants. The work becomes more distributed throughout the network. And the strategy evolves as the group learns from efforts and activities it has launched.

Development Stage: Organize

The Organize phase is about, well, getting organized: putting in place the plans and frameworks that will enable the group to coordinate their efforts and adapt as needed. Individual and collective roles and responsibilities are identified. Strategic agendas are fine-tuned. Plans for implementation are created. Protocols and systems for ongoing information sharing and dialogue are explored. Flexible and transparent network governance issues are developed—with the basic tenet for a network being less is more and not defaulting to organization think when putting structures in place.

Development Stage: Knit

Where the Discover and Know phase are about sensing and understanding, the Knit phase is about moving into action. Plans crystallize around what to focus on, who will do what and where and how to stay coordinated around a shared strategy while allowing individual agendas to flourish that increase the network’s overall impact. Key in this phase is that participants find the intersection where the goals of their individual organizations align with the collective intent. At this point networks start to knit action together and pilot activities. Identifying and nurturing emergent network stewards and leaders is critical here, and throughout all the stages.

Development Stage: Know

The Know phase is marked by a deeper understanding of the issue and essential stakeholders needed at the table. The group starts to see itself as a group (ideally) and begins to build a shared narrative to bind them to a larger story of change they want to see in the world. The group identifies levers to create both direct and systemic impact which allows participants to mobilize around these levers and see how their actions can align and coordinate. An initial model of the value exchange for collective work starts to surface.

Development Stage: Discover

A network has to start somewhere. The work in the Discover phase is about identifying a group of actors (usually a small group at this point) who share the sense that existing solutions aren’t sufficient, uncovering the web of relationships between them and sharpening this emerging group’s understanding of the problem. People working in the same space can often have wildly divergent views of the issue. Understanding how to bound or reframe the challenge, how it has developed over time, what solutions have been tried and by whom is the understanding gained in this phase.