Key Points

· Networks have historically played an essential role in promoting progress in areas such as social justice, political reform, environmental protection, and public health.

· Foundations are increasingly recognizing the power of networks and looking for strategies to help networks achieve their potential.

· The most common strategies are: a) convene a new network around a mission in line with the foundation’s interests, or b) make grants to an existing network whose interests align with the foundation’s. Each strategy has practical limitations.

· This paper analyzes an alternative strategy developed by the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation (MRBF). In addition to providing networks with grants, the foundation’s staff (referred to as “network officers”) interact frequently with funded networks, providing resources, offering analyses, raising challenging questions, and encouraging strategic action. Network officers also broker relationships among people and organizations that might benefit from working together in a networked way.

· The MRBF approach constitutes a “model” for building the capacity of change-oriented networks, but is recommended only for foundations that are highly patient, adaptive, and skilled in working with grantees in a give-and-take fashion.

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