Sharing knowledge is the key to bringing about systematic change.

Sharing is one of the goals of Pillar Nonprofit Network’s new microsite, The Network Approach. We chatted with Michelle Baldwin, Executive Director of Pillar Nonprofit Network (Pillar), about The Network Approach previously, and we wanted to dive into some of the tools the site has to offer.

The Network Approach has four principles: Collaboration, Leadership and Governance, Equity and Inclusion, and Storytelling and Impact.

We took a look and found some of our favourite tools under each principle. Have a read, and perhaps you’ll find one or more of these tools helpful in supporting (or starting!) your organization.

Sharing is Caring

Collaboration is at the heart of building networks, and a supportive network can bring about transformational shifts. “I feel like society has shifted to a scarcity mindset,” Michelle shared in our interview. “How can we think about abundance and open sourcing and sharing what we do, and leaning on one another?”

One of the articles under the Collaboration principle is about building a network approach for positive community impact. In the article, Pillar outlines its steps in growing and embracing the network approach. The piece also discusses the blurring of the three pillars of government, business, and nonprofit for the sake of social impact.

“Nonprofits can’t do it on our own,” Michelle said. “How do we work with nonprofit, business, government, towards creating that sense of community? I think the only way that we can do that is by having a sharing economy. ”

This breaks down into what Pillar describes as the keys to building a network mindset. The seven-point list provides items to think about when building partnerships.

One point that stood out for me was about fostering both individual organizations and change across the network. Pillar writes that “a strong network must also encourage members to think beyond their individual mission and consider how they can partner with other organizations to achieve systems change.”

Let’s build that sharing economy!

Strategic Planning, Network Style

Under the Leadership and Governance principle, Pillar offers tools surrounding strategic planning. Strategic plans can be intimidating, but they are vital to the health of any organization.

Pillar offers a different approach to strategic planning, and unsurprisingly, it’s a Networked Approach!

What does it mean to network your strategic planning? Pillar describes their strategic planning as “a journey of ideas, dialogue and reflection with our whole community.” They surveyed both members and non-members of Pillar. They asked what questions respondents had about Pillar and Pillar’s future. From there, Pillar went through a flurry of actions, from hosting design jams to exploring the organization’s adaptive cycle.

One tool I reflected on in this article is the “golden circle.” It’s an exercise zeroing in on the “why” of an organization. As you build out the circle, the “why” is in the centre. The second layer outward is about what sets you apart. The outer layer lays out the programs and services the organization provides.

gold circle principles strategic planning
Pillar’s Golden Circle. Photo provided by Pillar Nonprofit Network,

I found myself wondering if a golden circle exercise might be worth undertaking on an individual level too. You could look at the skills you bring and share as your “programs and services.” We can all benefit from reconnecting with the drive that pushes us to do what we do.

As we learned from our interview with Michelle, reflection makes for better leadership. “I can tell that I’m a better person in all parts of my life when I have that intentionality for reflection,” she shared.

Best Practices for a Better Community

Equity and Inclusion is another principle that makes up The Network Approach. It’s a principle that nonprofits must work on to best serve their communities. With that in mind, Pillar developed an article on the best practices in equity and inclusion for nonprofits.

Doing the work to build an equitable organization involves establishing a common language and examining power and privilege. Pillar shared some of the challenges in doing this work. They reveal that audiences would dwindle in the course of power and privilege workshops. Reflecting on one’s privilege can be uncomfortable. However, it is an invaluable exercise to understand the reality that populations with lesser privilege face every day.

Another point the article makes is the importance of storytelling, listening to the lived experience of people across marginalized communities. Pillar notes that this practice “is critical to establishing empathy and understanding and dismantling assumptions.” It also leads to better service from organizations when actual life experience informs the work.

There’s also another treasure trove of Pillar resources, including their Board Diversity Matrix. This is a great tool for celebrating strengths and identifying gaps in organizations.

Telling Your Story

The fourth principle in The Network Approach is Storytelling and Impact. How do you best tell the story of what you do?

The Network Approach offers an article full of storytelling tools and tips. The article shares thoughts about the usefulness of formats from videos to podcasts. I was particularly drawn to the idea of the “epic tale.”

According to The Network Approach, the epic tale is the “process of telling the story of an organization through the experience and lens of the many people who have been part of it.” This can be a useful tool in identifying milestone achievements and significant shifts.

Telling your story is valuable. Photo provided by Pillar Nonprofit Network.

As I read this part of the article, it made me wonder about the epic tale of LondonFuse. Our organization is over 10 years old now, and it has been through many shifts and changes in that time. Perhaps it’s time for our epic tale! I’ll be sure to add some cartoons.

These are a few of the resources you can find in The Network Approach microsite. Give the site a read and flip through some of the many documents the site hosts. You may come away with some exercises and ideas to bring back to your organization.

No one person or organization can save the world alone. Take the opportunity to learn from the work (and network) of others – we’re all in this together!

This post has been powered by Pillar Nonprofit Network. Pillar Nonprofit Network strengthens individuals, organizations and enterprises invested in positive community impact. 

Feature photo provided by Pillar Nonprofit Network.


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