Network Weaver Weaving Smart Networks Mon, 08 Sep 2014 17:55:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 RE-AMP’s Pool of Funds Thu, 29 May 2014 00:36:36 +0000 Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 8.31.30 PM

One of the issues for networks is how to determine priorities and have sufficient funding to support a set of innovative, experimental projects. RE-AMP,  a climate change network of around 125 organizations and foundations in the Upper Midwest, has had tremendous success with a pooled fund with funding from a group of funders combined into one fund with joint decision-making. In my interview with Rick Reed from the Garfield Foundation (which has been the catalyst for this network), he explains how the pooled fund works.

When RE-AMP was first formed, Garfield Foundation made a conscious decision not to set up a pooled fund right away. They felt that building trust and giving funders experience collaborating needed to the first on the agenda.

However, they did ask other foundations to support the infrastructure of the network by contributing $50,000 to cover the costs of a well-run network: a network facilitator, gatherings, mileage and so forth. The argument was that if the network worked well their investments in member non-profits would result in greater impact.

They recruited the Rockefeller Family Fund, which is a 501c3 endowed fund, to be the fiduciary agent. Any 501c3 can play this role if it has the internal capacity to receive invoices and write checks and is willing to do so, often for a small percentage of the total amount deposited. After a number of years RE-AMP began to use the Michigan Environmental Council for infrastructure expenses because they were willing to write many small checks needed for travel and gatherings.

The infrastructure budget (which now includes stipends for working group coordinators and other staff, communications, and the annual meeting) went from $350,000 the first year to its current $900,000.

During the first 3 years (before the pooled fund), RE-AMP working groups came up with priorities. Funders who were part of the network then took these seriously and used the priorities to determine the focus for their funds. In addition, the foundation working group looked at these priorities and was able to use them to recruit new foundations to the network. As a result, funds from any single foundation were increasingly leveraged. This early strategy still allowed funders to have considerable control over their funds. During these three years, funders attended annual meetings and working groups where they were able to build relationships of trust with other network members and could see how the network and the working groups operated. This increased their confidence in the network, and helped them move to the next stage.

After three years, Garfield saw that that money needed to move faster and be more focused so they decided to start a pooled fund. The idea was for a set of funders to put money into a single fund, where decisions for all the money would be made by a funding group composed of funders and working group coordinators. A pooled funding approach could support a more bottom up, state-based prioritization process that was more in touch with real opportunities and needs.

Initially, only Garfield put in funds. But six months later a second foundation matched Garfield’s funds, and then shortly after 2 more foundations each put in a million dollars. After that growth of the fund was rapid.

So it takes one foundation willing to lead and take the first step, then asking others to join them.


1. The prioritization and decision-making process

In state based meetings, the member organizations identify opportunities for impact: this is what we can do in our state given current politics, public sentiment, etc. These priorities generally fall under the rubric of one of the working groups (which are quite broad areas of focus).

So one state might send in 5 ideas, of them 2 go into one working group, 3 in another. If the topic combines two areas, then it goes to both working groups. The funding group (composed of all funders who contribute dollars and the working group coordinators) meets to make strategic decisions. They may know that action in one state could leverage change in all the states, so put resources there rather than spread it around. They piece together a portfolio that is really going to make a difference for the whole region.

Then collaborations of organizations go back and write proposals. Each working groups leader picks a partner from the set of foundations to help them review the set of proposals received, and then make a recommendation to whole funding committee. Working Group leaders tend to have a broad sense of what is happening in the region so the discussions have considerable collective intelligence! Much better decisions are made because recommendations are given a reality check by the other working group coordinators.


2. The reporting and accountability system

The most important aspect of reporting for RE-AMP and its funders is that what is reported helps everyone learn and adapt. Reporting is not so much for checking to see if grantees did what they said. Everyone agrees RE-AMP wants impacts; but they put an equal emphasis and seek to reward learning.

RE-AMP has an online system for reporting (password protected for members only). It also has a knowledge manager (originally called a learning and progress manager) who helps come up with the questions in the reports so that they really capture learning that will be valuable to others. Reporting of mistakes is encouraged so that everyone can learn from that.

Financial reporting is only shared with the foundations.

Much of the way accountability works in RE-AMP is through peer accountability.

People on the funding committee know a lot about all the organizations involved and how they are doing. This might be harder in a national network.

If grants are not working out, Garfield will often have a talk with the organization. Also, if a grant is given and the organization gets very fast results, the money is not returned but repurposed. They don’t penalize success.

Reporting is organized by working group or leverage points. Grantees are asked to report every six months on their most important accomplishments.

Reporting shows allocation of funds, and interpretation of why allocations were focused the way they were. For example, initially 2/3 of the money was going into stopping new coal plants from construction. Then in 2009 most plants were shut down, so shifted to retiring existing coal plants and increasing policy to support alternative energy.

Rockefeller still does the fiduciary for the large grants. Garfield makes a grant agreement with Rockefeller, then Rockefeller subcontract. Garfield does all the due diligence to make sure money being spent appropriately so Rockefeller only does the financial reporting. (Takes high level of trust)

Still trying to figure out how to give organizations general operating support which can make them more flexible.


FOR MORE INFORMATION ON RE-AMP see Transformer by the Monitor Institute

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Best Practices for Communities of Practice/ Learning Networks Thu, 22 Aug 2013 16:30:41 +0000 Abby jacketBest Practices in developing a Community of Practice

Abby Yanow

How do you develop a dynamic learning cluster or community of practice, with engaged members who are generous in sharing their knowledge and experience? 

These practices comes from my experience creating several communities of practices and a world-class professional network for leadership and organizational development consultants, the Boston Facilitators Roundtable.

1. Identify Community Guidelines

Set guidelines to support connection based on mutual learning and support,  that encourage sharing of information and that discourage people from marketing to each other.   Mutual learning also means coming together to learn with and from one another, without a need to have all the answers.

Additional guidelines:  interactive meetings with some presentation and a lot of conversation, in small and large groups, and community building.

2. Format and size of the cluster

  • If relevant, the conveners should determine the ideal number of participants; there is often a benefit to keeping the group small if people are going to disclose their learning edge or challenges in their work.
  • For some organizations, diversity of participants is desired, so the conveners should determine the characteristics of participants (diversity of organizations, regions, race, ethnicity, etc.)
  • Decide if this will be an open or closed group; this relates to the size, as stated.  If it’s an open group, have participants identify ways to integrate newcomers into the group.

3.  The first meeting

  • Identify the shared learning objectives
  • Start the cluster with each individual identifying his/her learning objectives, and then identify those objectives that are shared by most people.
  • Identify topics for discussion (you might choose one of these for the first meeting)
  • Spend the bulk of the first meeting on content, not on logistics or on technology.  People are eager to hear “what’s this group about” and “how do I connect to this topic and to this group?”  Attend to logistics and technology towards the end of the meeting.

4. Format of meetings

The convener should solicit topics of interest from the group, either at the end of each meeting or prior to the  next meeting.   Once the agenda is set, send a reminder 1-2 days before the meeting with logistical information – date, time, website, conference call number.  People often misplace these messages if you send them earlier than that ;)  For the first 1-2 meetings, invite people to join the session 10 minutes early to check their connections, their audio and video, access to the website, as necessary.  That way you can start the meeting on time.

For the meeting itself:

  1. It’s nice to start with a check-in – what’s something exciting that happened to you in the last week/month; what are you looking forward to next month;  or, what are you hoping to get out of today’s meeting?
  2. Announce the agenda with time estimates
  3. Facilitate the content
  4. Conduct a brief evaluation
  5. Plan for the next meeting:  what’s the topic, who’s going to present a case or lead the discussion, what materials will be sent in advance, what’s the date and time.

The evaluation give you a feel for the value that participants are getting out of the group, and to make improvements or adjustments that will enrich their experience.  It can be a Plus/Delta – what worked well and what can we improve; it can be a “Continue/ Stop/ Start” – what should we continue, stop and start doing.

5. Participants own the group

This comes from the self-organizing principle of adult learning – adults know what they want/need to learn and they can take responsibility for their learning.   The degree to which participants organize the topics may depend on the nature of the group.  In many cases, it’s up to the participants to identify topics for conversation, and rotate the roles of presenting a topic, choosing a book to read and discuss, generating cases for discussion.  Peer-assists can also be very valuable.  A participant who has questions about a project s/he is working on can present it to the group to get their suggestions.

6. Foster Communication between participants

Participants want to be able to communicate with each other between meetings.  Build a platform for multi-directional communication for the purpose of networking, potential collaboration and for people to learn who they can call on with future questions.  This builds the density of connections and strengthens the group for the long run.

7.  Technology

There are many platforms to use for virtual meetings with audio, and some with video components.  Some platforms are free; you have to pay for advanced features.  Some things to consider:

  1. Do people need/want to see one another?  Look at Adobe Connect, Zoom, Google Hangout.  Check the capacity for the maximum number of webcams.
  2. Will you want to have breakout sessions?  Look at StartMeeting, AnyMeeting, Maestro Conferencing.
  3. Do you need to share your screen?  Adobe Connect, StartMeeting, Google Hangout.
  4. Share documents?  GoogleDocs, GoogleDrive.

With any of these platforms you’ll want to check on the features, the ease of use, and the support.  And always test them before the live session, because Murphy’s Law sometimes catches you off-guard:  If something can go wrong, it will ;)

Questions?  Contact me:



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Welcome to the Network Weaver Blog Wed, 22 May 2013 00:25:20 +0000 Welcome to the Network Weaver Blog. A group of Network Consultants has volunteered to provide useful, innovative and interesting information in this blog — and we hope that all of you will reading this will join by responding to the posts offered here. Also, let us know what topics you would like to initiate. Each of the bloggers will be introducing themselves, letting you know a little about their interests and experience.

Most of the bloggers are working on inter-organizational networks, mostly among non-profits, foundations and government. But a few are also working with single organizations on their network strategies, and others are working with for-profit businesses. The bloggers work in areas as varied as food systems, local economies, conservation and environmental networks, student organizer networks, and many more.

Please join us on this new experiment in blogging. Let’s all help build a networked world!

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