Nonprofit Networking: The New Way to Grow

How can a nonprofit increase its social impact? Many would say it needs to grow big to be strong. Instead, says Harvard Business School professor Jane Wei-Skillern, the answer could be in the power of strategic networks.

In a talk on the benefits of strategic networking for the non-profit sector, Professor Wei-Skillern suggests that building networks might be a more powerful lever to increase a nonprofit’s social impact than simply focusing on growth.

“A network approach as a deliberate management strategy for nonprofits is still relatively uncommon,” Professor Skillern says. “Oftentimes an organization might be engaged in a partnership at one point or another, or be a member of an umbrella organization … but it’s not really a network approach that comes into play in the day-to-day operations as a core activity of the mainline business of the nonprofit.”

Though networks are not new in practice, she said, the question of how to go about creating these networks is still relatively unexplored. Few people understand the nuts and bolts of how to create, build, and sustain effective relationships with like-minded organizations to better accomplish a social goal.

Professor Skillern says that trust forms the core of a network, and explains that networks tend to share other characteristics, including a preference for discussing and working through a problem together, and a willingness to share and help each other.

Her talk also explores the way in which two large non-profits, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the Womens World Banking, have exploited the benefits of networking to increase capacity and improve services.

Further information


Partnership types

Doing business with the poor

Regions / countries / territories

Americas: United States

Global issues

Community development; Job creation and enterprise development