Quick Thoughts from the Network Funders Gathering, Day 1

Yesterday was the first day of the Network of Network Funders gathering. It was my kind of gathering — great crowd, thoughtful conversations, strong design (a Diana Scearce staple), incredible stories.

Wanted to share three observations from yesterday:

Holding the tension. Working with networks from a position of traditional, institutional power is a tricky business. But doing it successfully is not about giving or wishing away that power. It’s about holding all the different tensions in balance: sharing control without losing it entirely, using your power to empower others, being open without putting your network at risk.

Fight the organizational mindset. The natural challenge for folks from foundations is fighting an organizational mindset. Folks here are doing pretty well, and they can do better. Focus on verbs, not nouns — network weaving vs network weavers, governing vs governance.

Own your power! There’s a psychological phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. In short, people who are incompetent tend to overestimate their abilities; people who are highly competent tend to underestimate their abilities. Dunning-Kruger (the good kind) is rampant here.

The people in this room are really, really smart and well-versed in practice — moreso than many consultants I know. They need to step out of the mindset that they are only funders and step into their roles as thought leaders and action partners. Don’t pretend away the power dynamic. It will always be there. Channel it by sharing your knowledge in partnership with other stakeholders with humility, and continuing to do and to learn.

You can follow today’s conversation on Twitter by following the #netfunders hashtag.

2 replies to “Quick Thoughts from the Network Funders Gathering, Day 1”

  1. Eugene, you notice the most interesting things. GrantCraft in their Personal Strategies talks about under/over identifying with our roles as funders which I think is part of what you picked up on. I have more to learn about the verb vs noun nuance. I struggle because we do fund and participate in "capital N" networks that feel like a noun to me. I caught Diana's Scearce's comment about not wanting to "give networks agency" and the addition of "effective" to "effective networks can…" Is that what it is all about?

    1. Stephanie, your GrantCraft allusion is exactly what I'm talking about. I tried to elaborate on my "nouns vs verbs" statement on the Blue Oxen blog:

      Capital N Networks are absolutely nouns, and they're also organizations. There's no getting around that. I think the trick is to think of them as organizations that serve networks as opposed to networks themselves (even though they're that also). I suspect that many Capital N Networks carry a lot of organizational baggage that actually hinders the emergence within those networks. At the same time, I also know that many of these Capital N Networks are doing a Herculean job of catalyzing something out of groups that may not otherwise do anything. We have to figure out a way to balance these two things. I don't have any answers for how to do it other than practice, practice, practice. Mindset matters, hence my diatribe on nouns and verbs, but it's not enough.

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