Some may say that money makes the world go around. But I know money isn’t everything. Especially for small nonprofits that often must meet incredible needs with limited resources.
As the co-leader of GlobalGiving’s Peer Learning Network, I connect nonprofit leaders—from organizations of all sizes, in nearly every country around the world—with each other. Every month, I host a peer-led seminar, which lasts about 90 minutes and focuses on a specific topic area. Past sessions have included improving local fundraising, developing an effective nonprofit board, succession planning, and impact measurement. Since 2013, nearly 600 leaders have tapped into the network, sharing their experiences, gaining new ideas and perspectives, and growing in confidence.
Three years of facilitation have brought me to a bold belief: Relationships and knowledge, not money, make the world go around. That’s why I so highly value peer learning. Turning to your peers is a great way to solve any challenge—and at GlobalGiving, we have a big challenge. We want to make the world a better place.
Are you a nonprofit leader who is faced with building a network—perhaps of donors, volunteers, or a board of directors? Here are four helpful tips from my experience as a peer networker:
1. Remove barriers to participation.
With nonprofits based in 170 countries, we had to find a tech solution to connect our diverse network. We searched for an online meeting software that would work for partners with low Internet bandwidth and enable people to connect via telephone. Importantly, there is no cost to attend a peer learning session. Nonprofit training and conference costs are often prohibitive for smaller charities, and it was important for the network to reduce barriers to learning. What barriers to participation exist for your network? Identify them and do everything in your power to remove them.
2. Know when to limit your role.
GlobalGiving plays a facilitator role. We survey the network to identify common interests, challenges, and in-demand skills. Then, we bring people together, setting the scene, preparing the speakers, posing questions, sharing best practices and resources, and summarizing learnings. Within your network, develop roles—for yourself and others—that help you meet your overall objectives.
3. Elevate others.
Why does “peer learning” work specifically? It is the peers that make it. Being able to share with others in a similar position offers an opportunity to be reflective. Hearing from peers builds a sense of solidarity and confidence. As one participant said, “It is good to see that I am not only one facing those challenges.” Once you’ve assembled your network, let others share and shine in ways or in roles that align with their expertise.
4. Remember that success often comes in stages.
Just after a session on how to keep staff engaged, motivated, and developing professionally, the leader of a small Kenyan organization reached out to me. She told me that she had never done staff supervisions and appraisals before and was worried that her staff might react badly to a supervision meeting, thinking they were being judged negatively. She told me she wasn’t sure she would use the additional resources and templates from the session, but would keep them in mind. At the time, I was pleased that the session had helped her to consider what might be possible. Fast forward two months, and she was back in touch. She told me: “This was our first time to formally do staff appraisal, and it turned up to be quite good. Staff really opened up, and I was able to acknowledge their strengths as they identified gaps to be filled in their area of work and skills to be improved.” An outcome, from my standpoint, sweeter than money.