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Tactics for Building a "Value Network" for your Nonprofit - Article and Exercises

business networking event

Tactics for Building a "Value Network" for your Nonprofit

Article and Exercises

The nonprofit world is a quirky one. Many nonprofits are founded by passionate people with little or no nonprofit experience. Many board members have little or no nonprofit experi­ence, and many staff members have little or no nonprofit or business experience.


The result is often a lot of wasted time and effort. Mistakes are made, resources are poorly allocated, and problems are ignored. People get involved and things get done, but no one is sure what should be done, how it should be done, or who should be responsible to do what.


A nonprofit can avoid many of these common pitfalls by building a "value network.” A value network is nothing more than a network of people, organizations, and resources that can help a non­profit run more efficiently and effectively—and build capacity—by providing information, knowledge, skills, experience, influence, and money.


The following article and exercises will help your board and team build its value network and increase the organization's impact along the way.


Build a network with people

Many seasoned staff and board members have gone through the same challenges you’re facing. Whether it’s learning how to file an IRS 990, or learning how to set up a planned giving option for a major donor, others have scratched their heads wondering what to do. You’re not the first.


Find out where nonprofit (and for-profit) executives and board members gather in your community. There is usually some type of association or regular meeting sponsored by a community foundation, local business, or college. At­tend these gatherings, meet people, and learn from others.


Establish relationships with experienced board members, execu­tives, and key staff. Set up meetings, ask questions, and learn from their mistakes and successes. If you find a good personality fit, ask them to mentor you. Most will say yes, and be honored you asked.


Build of network of organizations

You can learn a lot from people, but you can also learn from organiza­tions. Some may be in your community, some may be in your industry, and some may have a similar nonprofit structure. Reach out to high-performance organizations you feel you can benefit from knowing.


The latest buzz in the nonprofit world is “collaboration” and “collective impact.” You’ll want to look for ways to collaborate with organiza­tions and businesses in your community, and in your industry, to share re­sources and ideas to achieve common goals and purposes.


However, be warned. Collaboration sounds good in theory, and it can be very beneficial, but it can also burn up excessive time and resources. My advice is to embrace collaboration thoughtfully. Examine the benefits, costs, and outcomes, and then pru­dently allocate resources to manage your collaborative and collective impact efforts.


Build a network of resources

Running a gold standard nonprofit is complicated. For this reason alone, your staff, board, and volunteers should always be exploring ways to refine their skills and learn how to run a best practices nonprofit.


You’ll find more than a dozen useful resources in the Resources section of this book. You’ll also want to read books and magazines, subscribe to websites and blogs, join associations and trade groups, and attend con­ferences and workshops. These are all excellent resources for learning how to improve skills and run a high-performance nonprofit. Make sure you budget funds to pay for these types of resources.



Building a value network is one of the most undervalued and un­derused techniques a nonprofit can use to build a gold standard non­profit. The nonprofit and for-profit worlds may be quirky, but they are also gracious. People and organizations are typically very willing to share what they’ve learned, make introductions, and financially support their local nonprofits to help them climb the rungs of success. All you need to do is show up, meet people, and humbly ask for help.


1. To be best in class in this cornerstone, what 3 - 5 things would your nonprofit have to do?


2. List 3 reasons why you should build a value network?


3. Why is your nonprofit at a competitive disadvantage if it doesn’t build a value network? List 3.


4. List 3 ways a mentor could help your chief executive be more effective?


5. List 3 ways a mentor could help your board chair be more effective?


6. Why is it important that your organization, not the staff, pay for workshops, seminars, professional development, and continuing education classes? Does your board support this type of funding? Why should they?



1. For Reflection question number 1 only, develop a plan outlining how you will implement each of the things you listed and create an accountability system to manage the imple­mentation process.


2. Have the staff develop of list of 10 people it could add to their value network. Have the board develop a list of 10 people it could add to its value network.  Think: professionals, celebrities, influences, volunteers. Prioritize the lists and create a plan to approach them.


Note: The people added to the board’s network may be good candidates for advisory board mem­bership. If they work out well as advisory board members, they may eventu­ally be good candidates for full board membership.


3. Develop a list of at least 5 regular community-type meetings that staff or board mem­bers could attend on a regular basis to deepen their relationships with nonprofit, community, or business leaders. Have staff and board members commit to at­tending these meetings.


4.Have the staff and board come up with a list of businesses, organizations, and foundations they should consider adding to their value network. Prioritize the lists and create a plan to approach them. Think: Organizations with similar missions, or serving the same beneficiaries, or serving the same geographic region. Also consider the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Junior League, places of worship, and local retailers.


5. Have the staff and board come up with a list of city, state, and federal agencies they should consider adding to their value network. Prioritize the lists and create a plan to approach them. Think: Health and Welfare, fire department, police department, military branches, forest service, and recycling center.


6. Have the staff develop a list of workshops, seminars, and continuing education classes it would like to attend. Prioritize the list and add the cost of attendance. Add a few of these events to your budget and then try to get one or two of your major donors to sponsor these events.


7. Who would benefit most by having a mentor? Your chief executive? Board chair? Program director? Discuss this topic with your board and then find mentors for those who need and are willing to have a mentor.

Tom Iselin has built nine sector-leading nonprofits. He’s written six books, sits on three boards, and hosts a video blog and podcast. Each year, Tom speaks to more than 5,000 nonprofit leaders at conferences across the country. He is considered one of America's best and most popular board retreat and strategic planning facilitator and is a leading authority on high-performance nonprofits, and his impact on the industry has been featured on CNN, Nightline, and in Newsweek.

If you’re in the hunt for the best board retreat/board development facilitation, or the best strategic planning facilitation, it would be a privilege to learn more about your organization and the aspirations you hope to achieve as you work to propel your noble mission. Jot me an email to set up a meet-and-greet call.

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I’m here to help. Contact me . . ., or 858.888.2278


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