Generating revenue for networks
by Seema Patel, Senior Advisor, Collective Mind
Collective Mind hosts regular Community Conversations with our global learning community. These sessions create space for network professionals to connect, share experiences, and cultivate solutions to common problems experienced by networks.
In May 2022, Collective Mind hosted a Community Conversation about alternative approaches to generating revenue for networks. The session welcomed Mohammad Issa, General Manager of Yes Theater and President of Creativity Lab for Empowerment and Innovation, based out of Palestine, and Beth Unverzagt, the Executive Director of OregonASK, based in Oregon. Each panelist shared their experiences around resourcing their networks and examples of different approaches they’ve used to diversify their revenue streams.
Highlights from the conversation
Adequate funding is a common challenge across many sectors and industries but can be distinctly difficult for networks, where resources need to account for the collective, rather than just one organization. Many networks fall back on membership fees as a means to generate income which, while potentially beneficial to creating a sense of ownership for paid members, can also have implications around equity and inclusion of members’ voices. Other options, such as donor funding, can often be competitive, administratively onerous, and limiting in scope and flexibility. Additionally, when network members carry out their own programming and rely on resources from foundations and governments rather than collaboratively fundraise for the network, it can put more constraints on an already-competitive donor landscape. In cases where membership fees or traditional donor funding models aren’t ideal or sustainable, it becomes important for networks to think outside the box, or in some cases, look for opportunities in unlikely places. And most importantly, those opportunities must be shaped with the network in mind.
In the instance of one of our panelists, the idea to use entrepreneurship as a means to generate revenue was inspired by an existing project. What began as a donor-funded initiative to use puppets as a creative practice to foster mental wellbeing and provide activities for children and youth, transitioned into an entrepreneurial collaboration of professional puppetry practitioners providing a service to marginalized communities. This concept was then used to offer capacity building, incubator, and mentoring programs to the network members to help them adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and carry forward similar collaborations. The value-add of using an approach like social entrepreneurship in a network context has the dual benefit of generating income that can be invested back into the network and simultaneously extending the social impact of the enterprise through the collective reach of the network.
Another means to generate revenue is to provide training, technical assistance, or research as a service. For example, as shared by our other panelist, their network actively seeks out contracts with school districts or government agencies to provide such services so as to improve the quality of what they provide to children and youth. Other networks have tried crowdfunding campaigns or requests for donations as a means to generate revenue to support stipends for under-resourced members to attend events. While oftentimes this doesn’t generate a large amount, it can demonstrate that the network’s connections are strong and supportive.
What also became clear from the conversation is that exploring alternative means for funding calls for a cultural mindset shift by the organizations that have signed on to be part of the network — a shift away from competing against each other for resources and towards collectively looking to resource the network as a whole to create greater impact. In other words, in order to generate revenue for a network, you must think like a network. However, this can only be achieved through dedicated and consistent conversations with the membership, to bring them along in the ideation and development process of alternate funding strategies.
There may also be instances in which networks are unable to resource themselves. This may be a signal or an opportunity to strategically reflect on the network’s value-add, impact, and competitive advantage. A shift or redesign may be needed in order for the network to become more innovative or impactful, or in some cases, to make the decision for the network to close up shop.
In any of these cases, fundraising for a network is time-consuming and intensive. Investing upfront time to look for new and innovative ways to generate revenue becomes a worthwhile and important component of any network’s long-term strategy.
Miss the session? View the recording here and check out the resources provided by our co-host!
Thank you again to our panelists, Mohammad Issa and Beth Unverzagt!
Have your own experiences with peer learning models? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Or email Seema at email@example.com to co-host an upcoming session with us.