Connectedness: Greater than the Sum of the Parts

  April 30, 2020

Strong organizations are purposefully and actively connected internally with staff and board members and externally with constituents, within the sector and across sectors. This allows organizations to proactively manage change and build communication pathways to inform their decision-making and increase preparedness.

Get a quick explanation on Connectedness from PartnersGlobal President & CEO Julia Roig below. Connectedness is one of seven critical factors to organizational resiliency in PartnersGlobal’s Resiliency+ Framework.

Below are the three main elements of Connectedness and key resources for each.

1. Network Membership

The connections an organization purposefully and actively maintains with others in its sector and across sectors enables it to leverage resources and relationships in times of uncertainty and change.

One African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

In “Making Sense of Nonprofit Collaboration,” authors Alex Neuhoff, Katie Smith Milway, Reilly Kiernan, and Josh Grehan explain four common forms of formal collaboration— associations, joint programs, shared support functions, and mergers. They go on to explore the positive trends in collaboration and barriers preventing funders and grantees from working together as effectively as possible to achieve their goals.

In this video from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, nonprofit leaders share the strategies and systems they’ve used to foster deeper and more meaningful connections with their constituents and how those approaches have helped their organizations grow and succeed.

In this mini master class video, Nick Martlew, Strategy Director at Digital Action and author of the Creative Coalitions handbook, explains how to build more powerful coalitions. Martlew advises: “Scale impact – not your organization.”

2. Active Solidarity

The collective strength of united organizations and other civil society actors allows them to effectively respond to challenges posed by rapidly changing external environments and shifts in civic spaces, such as restrictions on freedoms of speech or movement or organizational operations via increased regulations.

Have you ever wondered what the term “collective impact” really means and what is involved in this specific approach to cross-sector collaboration? Listen to this podcast from the Collective Impact Forum to learn more. The Forum also offers numerous resources including case studies, videos, toolkits, and guides to help you get started exploring and practicing collective impact in your organization.

One route to increase collective impact is for nonprofits to team up with social movements. In his article, “Can NGOs and social movements be authentic allies?”, Michael Silberman argues: “Genuine partnerships can be formed [between nonprofits and social movements], though there are always difficulties and dangers.”

He lays out four key learnings to keep in mind:

  1. Get clear on what you mean by movements
  2. Know when to leave your brand behind
  3. Share your credibility
  4. Move money and resources

And in this podcast, Terry Gibson, author of “Making Aid Agencies Work,” talks to Sarwar Bari of Pattan Development Organisation and Manu Gupta of Seeds India about the relationships between International NGOs (INGOs), local NGOs and communities, and the need for trust, listening and co-learning. Gupta reflects:

“The problem is that the current model of aid that the INGOs and the international system brings does not have the scope of institution building, for example, or for informal ways of engagement with the marginalized because there is no immediate quantifiable change that one can record as output of the investment.”

In his article “Strong Social Networks are Key to Turning Around Communities,” Maurice A. Jones says that strong social networks at the community level have been found to be critical to organizations surviving in times of uncertainty.

He writes that:

“The key is to form the social and strategic ligaments that bind whole neighborhoods and help their centers of strength and energy work in concert…An improved school is linked to the new clinic; the youth program and the merchants’ association work with police and the parks department; arts groups and economic development programs and housing associations find common cause.”

3. Collaborating to Create Shared Value

Collaborating to create shared value is the practice of working alongside diverse internal and external actors, including businesses, to create economic, social, and cultural value.

Coined by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in this 2011 article “Creating Shared Value” in the Harvard Business, the concept of shared value moves companies beyond corporate social responsibility to understanding that they increase their competitive advantage by including social and environmental considerations directly into business strategies – not as an addendum to them.

The idea of shared value is so important to NGOs because it presents opportunities for new, strategic partnerships with the private sector. In “The Ecosystem of Shared Value,” Mark R. Kramer and Marc W. Pfitzer examine the principles of collective impact (noted above under Active Solidarity) to create an ecosystem based on shared value.

Today, the definition of shared value is expanding. The Accelerist’s blog “How to Accelerate Shared Value Partnerships in 2020” notes three new facets of shared value:

  1. Going beyond organizational missions
  2. Fostering innovative ways to engage staff in new partnership opportunities
  3. Leveraging Sustainable Development Goals commitments to facilitate business and nonprofit partnerships.

If you’ve ever considered forging strategic partnerships with for-profit businesses, but don’t know how or where to start, check out this article called “Nonprofit-Corporate Partnerships: A New Framework” by Tynesia Boyea-Robinson, which includes five principles for engaging businesses:

  1. Speak as partner, not supplicant
  2. Offer legitimate solutions to tough business challenges such as value propositions
  3. Focus on how you will address their needs first
  4. Know their numbers
  5. Know the industry, the business, and your own assets

You can also read Devex’s piece “7 Tips to Make NGO-Business Partnerships Work” for more insights on this topic.