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Using the power of leverage for social good

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. -Archimedes

Archimedes' metaphor is an apt description of the role of networking in social change. Alone, most people couldn't lift a boulder twice their size — but with the right tools, the mechanics of the game change entirely. In the nonprofit world, the lever and fulcrum are your network.

Networking isn't about coffee dates or social events. It's the practice of communicating your organization's mission to the community with the goal of building and strengthening connections.

Nonprofits with strong networks are able to use the power of leverage to catapult their causes much further and faster than they could manage alone. On a national level, a well-developed network has the ability to take control of a social movement or transform an industry. On the local or virtual level, a well-branched network provides opportunities to develop partnerships, recruit volunteers, build moral support and attract more resources.

Develop strategic targets

To develop strategic targets, focus on three important networking goals:

Creating champions

To make a significant impact on society, you need a strong core of supporters — people who will connect with your message and carry it back to their communities. Inspire champions for your cause by presenting case studies, sharing successful participant stories or looking for other ways to allow supporters to connect emotionally with your social mission.

Serving

Service is at the heart of many nonprofit organizations. After all, meeting even basic needs often requires a network of available hands. Build and strengthen your network by providing opportunities for the community to serve alongside you. Examples include everything from blood donation drives to neighborhood canvassing to regular volunteer opportunities.

Advocating

At some point, high-impact nonprofits must jump into the advocacy pool. Targeted, local effort isn't always enough to effect change. Some issues must be debated and adjudicated on a governmental level. Advocating for change takes time, but it's vital for nonprofits hoping to establish a national reputation, replicate their model or attract the resources needed to expand.

Grow your network

Networks usually start small, such as a group gathered around a kitchen table, and grow in size as the message spreads. To some extent, this will happen naturally over time — but this osmosis process might be too slow for some causes. If you want to increase your impact or spread your message quickly, don't sit back and wait for the world to find you. Instead, take active steps to accelerate the growth of your network:

Develop and nurture new relationships

Community partnerships, volunteer connections, participants, faith-based organizations — there's no end to the list of relationships that might stem from your organization. Basic rules of human decency apply in terms of how you nurture these relationships: If another organization does you a favor, strive to repay the favor. Be generous, whenever possible. Share your expertise and energy.

Build a force for good

Some of the most important relationships are collaborations with other nonprofits. Joining together with other causes helps form a "force for good" — a collective of groups working independently toward the same goal — that has the power to change society.

Work with the market

Most nonprofits rely on some level of altruistic giving, but increasingly many are also working within the existing economic market to diversify sources of support. Social enterprises are an excellent example of nonprofits working within existing channels to effect change. These models are so successful in part because they allow people to support your cause while also getting a product or idea that will benefit them.

Give back

Working within the market can also provide fresh opportunities to influence business practices. Larger or well-established organizations might consider partnerships with large corporations looking to give back. These connections can often provide crucial funding and media attention to spread your message. Smaller or local initiatives may focus on building goodwill by treating staff fairly and regularly giving back to the community.

Be a chameleon

Not all of your programs or ideas will be winners. Sometimes the best you can do is pick yourself up off the mat and move on. Nonprofits that make a big impact on society have learned to be master chameleons — always ready to adapt, innovate and modify their plans as needed. While their core mission remains the same, they strive to communicate their mission in many different ways to many different segments of society.

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Disclaimer

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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References

Stanford Social Innovation Review: Creating high-impact nonprofits by Heather McLeod Grant and Leslie R. Crutchfield (2007)

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Author

Writer and firm believer in using business as a tool for positive change