Now NFP’s Have Three Options: Merge, Perish or …… Network


If we are to listen to some high profile NFP players lately, small to medium cause-based organisations have two options : merge or perish!

All pretty depressing stuff if your organisation is now on this new endangered species list. Even worse if you, a family member or community is reliant on one of these supposedly doomed  organisations.

Maybe it’s just me but have you noticed that these merge or perish apologists tend to be leaders of very large charities or senior bureaucrats. Also they fail to acknowledge there may be other options.

One such alternative which is beginning to show that NFPs can not only survive but thrive is through networking.

Hold the phone, I can hear you saying:

“I am networking all the time – in this group, on that committee, am active on LinkedIn. I am networked out!” 

Yep, more and more good collaboration is happening from this networking – we’re sharing facilities, resources, ideas … whatever. But is all this networking achieving real transformational change in our society? Is it going to help organisations survive in the long term? I, for one, have my doubts.

So why isn’t all of this effort generating more dramatic social change? According to Jane Wei-Skillern, David Ehrichlman, and David Sawyer in the Stanford Social Innovation Review it is about how we network. More specifically, they argue that the sector urgently needs to develop network entrepreneurs – a new breed of leaders whose approach ….

“…expands far beyond the boundaries of their own organisation, supporting peers and partners across sectors to solve the problem. Not surprisingly, the potential of impact increases exponentially when leaders leverage resources of all types – leadership, money, talent – across organisations and sectors toward a common goal.”

These new leaders leave their egos, and those of their organisation, at the door, and set out each day to marshal the necessary resources to deliver true social change. They understand that this is beyond the reach of any one organisation alone and recognise that they and their organisation are but cogs in a much wider mechanism driving social change.

Coming to terms with the fact that one is not the centre of the universe may be difficult for some people and their organisations, but lets not diminish the critical role played by “cogs”. Each needs to be sound and fully functional to allow the entire machine to work. And it is this critical importance to the performance of the whole system that will ensure their continued existence.

As Nell Edington in an excellent post puts it …..

“The network approach involves having the confidence to think there is potentially a larger solution and that you might be part of it”

A further critical trait of network entrepreneurs identified in the SSIR is a genuine desire to achieve maximum impact rather than to promote themselves or their organisations.

They often put the interests of their peers ahead of their own, as “supporting all boats to rise” actually serves the mission best. Network entrepreneurs, for example, often refer potential donors to peers that can better deliver a program or service; they don’t simply seek to maximize their own organization’s budget. When all network participants adhere to this principle, it becomes self-reinforcing; it greases the wheels of current collaborations and opens the doors to future partnerships”.

Of course this type of “servant” or “humble” leadership isn’t new, with philosopher Lao Tzu in the 6th century BC being quoted as saying:

“When the best leader work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’”

And finally, if you are having a “pigs might fly” moment after reading this spend five minutes following some of the links in Nell’s post.  Clearly remarkable social change can be achieved, it all depends on how we choose to lead.  

By Chris Gandy – Founder and a Director of Cause & Effective

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

2 Responses

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s