I am thrilled to share a guest post by Talya Rotem of SMARTSaver. I’m always interested in social network analysis, and when Talya tweeted that she had discovered potential collaborators after looking through her organization’s loose connections, I had to find out more about her experience. In this blog post, Talya shares what she learned from analyzing her social network, and what that opened up for the nonprofit.
Running an online community can at times feel like marshaling a parade. We want to recruit the best ‘Grande Poohbah’ to help us amplify our message, lead our marching band, and excite the spectators on the sidelines. So, we design tactics to identify key collaborators, as well as fresh content, and new opportunities just to keep the party going. But none of that work should ever overshadow our efforts to also engage those who don’t even know about our hoopla!
SmartSAVER belongs to a large network of Canadian community organizations working to remove financial barriers for underprivileged kids to attend college. The network’s tight connectivity means that we could easily get stuck preaching to the converted, or inviting the same people to watch the same parade and eat the same candied apples. This inward-facing digital focus would never help us strengthen our small-but-growing online presence, or increase offline collaborations. Therefore, we started to proactively outreach to loose personal or professional connections already working in literacy, poverty reduction, or youth empowerment sectors – but who were not part of our tight network. The results have always varied, but most interactions now enable us to gain a broader awareness of potential cross-sectoral relationships.
Recently, I reached out on Twitter to the next person on my list of loose connections. He was someone I knew only from online, but who had volunteered with an early childhood literacy organization that we hadn’t worked with before.
My goal was to gain some insight into their online objectives, but the ensuing discussions enabled us to do so much more:
- Identify new key messaging for potential collaboration
We realized that our communications would better resonate with more child literacy organizations if we simply reframe our work as being one milestone on a child’s path through the education system, starting in kindergarten and ending in college.
- Identify new outreach locations
We learned that while the non-profit did not work specifically with kids living in poverty, that they were located in an area highly populated by kids from low-income households. Our efforts could now focus on some of those specific neighbourhoods.
- Build trust with key individuals
We discovered that our loose connection wasn’t ‘just’ a volunteer with the literacy non-profit, but was in fact a current board member. At the end of our discussion he was so engaged in our work that he offered to take our information with him to the next board meeting.
Proactively engaging loose connections hasn’t always resulted in getting our foot in the door, but they have helped us make inroads with contacts at college student retention programs, volunteer tax clinics, and food banks across the country. Most interactions offered new insights, fresh content, or sometimes they have led to tighter connections. Thankfully, people continue to join our parade, buy some cotton candy, and go home to tell their friends all about us!
Talya Rotem is a non-profit community engagement professional who has always motivated individuals to improve their lives or the lives of others by accessing health, education, or leadership opportunities.