How Do You Find People Who Can Connect You to the Networks You Want to Hear From?

Marion Kane, executive director of the Barr Foundation: I started with the foundation’s own staff. When I interviewed potential staff members, I asked them about their networks. I said, “Tell me who you’re connected to, who you socialize with, who you know, what networks you reach into.” I hired a group of people who had very complementary networks in Boston. The idea was to be one degree of separation from everything we wanted to know, in terms of both issue knowledge and neighborhoods. The staff is responsible for knowing what’s going on in their networks so we know what good projects are out there. We don’t have an open application process, which means that access can become a critical issue. If you arrange your networks right, you can solve that problem.

Anne Vally, special initiatives officer at The James Irvine Foundation: In California, the majority of foundation funding is concentrated along the coast, specifically in the San Francisco Bay area and the Los Angeles area. With the New Connections Fund, we wanted to focus our resources on the central areas of the state. For the last couple of rounds, we’ve identified “mavens” in our priority region – people whose names pop up everywhere, and who seem to know everyone. We’ve added to the list by tapping the knowledge of program staff, board members, and current partners. When we meet people we always ask, “Who else should I be talking to? Who can help us better understand the community?” The people we’re looking for might be in any sector: elected officials, public officials, appointed school board members, attorneys, judges, or nonprofit leaders. They care deeply about the community, probably are not looking for a grant themselves, and are well connected in the region. We ask them to spread the word about each New Connections Fund grant opportunity.

Joy Vermillion Heinsohn, program officer at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation: We keep a running log of people we meet or run into who we think would make good advisory panel members. We’re always looking for a diverse panel, geographically, racially, ethnically, and by gender. We also look at age and profession. We typically try to have a legislator, a journalist, a teacher, some business folks. We’re looking for people who can tell us about their communities, who are connected to the community, who pay attention to what is going on in the community and also in their professional field, and can keep us informed and relevant. They also help inform people in their communities about the foundation. Former advisory panel members become resource people who come back and speak to our board or current panel. We also ask them for nominations of other folks who would make good panel members.

Mary Kaplan, vice president of program at the Endowment for Health in Concord, New Hampshire: New Hampshire is divided into health service areas; each one is loosely based around a hub where people come together to get health services, such as a hospital. The communities we go to for listening sessions are part of those natural affinity groups. Usually there’s someone on our advisory council who’s either from the town or from the area, and we ask them to serve as host or hostess. When we have a listening session in their community, we ask them to use their social networks to help bring people out, which may mean calling the local newspaper or sending out an announcement of the meeting. And they host it — they’re at the door, they introduce us. So the listening session also connects the community to the person who is part of our council.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Scanning the Landscape 2.0.