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Serious Networking Within The Group

From the book
When Everyone’s a Volunteer
by Ivan Scheier

Every good all-volunteer organization is also something of a self-help group, bonded by win-win interactions. Networks are the glue that holds the group together, and are also a major benefit of belonging to the group for individual members. Networking is also a crucial means of resource development for non- staffed volunteer groups.

The well-budgeted organization can expect to purchase many needed resources from outside the group: equipment, materials, staff support, consulting, training and other technical assistance services. In fact 'n some circumstances, purchasing services from within the group may threaten conflict of interest, as when a board member is preferentially selected as a paid consultant to the organization.

By contrast, the all-volunteer low-budget group can only rarely buy what it needs from the outside. It might afford a modest outlay for secretariat services as already discussed. Then again, it might not. Usually the group must draw needed resources mostly from its own members, plus their contacts (which might reach outside the group). And so, while networking is a nice thing to do in a staffed organization, it's likely to be an absolute necessity for survival of an all-volunteer group. leaders of all-volunteer groups must therefore be especially skilled in triggering and maintaining networks. In addition, every individual member should be equipped to be an effective network participant.

Networking was a popular workshop topic in the early and mid-eighties. During the popular period, I was responsible for a number of workshops and publications on the subject. I also spent the years 1982 to 1985 volunteering around North America mainly to try out network-building methods in real-life situations. Out of that experience grew the following outline for orienting all-volunteer groups to networking. Within this overall framework, there are a number of specific strategies and methods for strengthening networks in an all-volunteer group. A sampling of these methods is presented immediately following this chapter.

A network is an ongoing sharing connection in which all participants, and the group as a whole, benefit.

Properly designed and maintained, networks are a relatively inexpensive and effective way of mobilizing problem-solving resources (information, ideas, expertise, personal support, and materials). The basic ingredients of a successful network are permission, attitude and simple rules:

1. Permission. Set an atmosphere in which ifs okay to admit needs, brag about re- sources, and seek connections without seeming "nosy," 'flirty," or "aggressive."

2.Network Attitude. This means behaving according to a belief that everyone (and every organization) has something to give, and everyone needs something. Further, this means expecting that need-resource connections can be made in such a way that all participants come out ahead (win-win).

3.Simple Rules. These are vital to the success of a network. Though easy to observe, they are disastrous to neglect, much as is the North American custom of driving on the right side of the road. The networking exercises that follow this chapter demonstrate this principle.

We are probably all natural networkers; how else can one survive to adulthood? But society erects barriers to the kind of openness networking requires: the willingness to admit and identify your needs and to freely offer your strengths. Consider, for example, the conceivably sincere male stranger who walks up to a woman on the street and suggests they could do some great networking. What he will likely get resembles networking not at all! We need permission and some assurance of sincerity and safety before we let the barriers down. Here are some ways this can be done:

• Make networking the avowed purpose of a meeting, workshop, etc. That helps to make it okay.

• Reinforce networking, mutual support- whatever name is used-as an overall principle or purpose of the group, the church, self-help group, service club, local association of volunteer coordinators, etc.

• All the better if networking is presented as a technique, a method. Some people, otherwise too shy to open up, may be more comfortable if it's phrased as "skill- building."

• Add to this ambiance, protection via the kinds of simple rules shown in the net- work methods following this chapter.

It may help to keep the 'network practice groups" small at first. The "Guided Conversation" exercise on pages 42 and 43, for example, usually involves only two people.

To repeat, we don't usually have to teach people to network; we only have to make it safe and legitimate for them to do so.

This is especially true if it takes courage to reach out and share when conditions are harsh. If we want more networking in our groups, neighborhoods, and communities, we have to prepare more and more safe places of this sort. Apropos of that, I'm often asked: how can you network unless you first build trust? I usually ask in return: how can you build trust unless you first network? The advantage you have in an all-volunteer group is that people already share some commonality of interest and purpose and, in smaller groups, often already know one another. The permission-with-protection approaches just described can build on this.

Cultivating a "Network Attitude"
By "network attitude" is meant this faith: everyone has something to give; everyone also needs something, and win-win connections can readily be made between these needs and gifts.

No one is so poor, uneducated, or client- stereotyped, that they don't have something valuable to offer. And no one is so rich, educated, or successful that they don't need something.

Since our society tends to segregate 'designated helpers" and 'designated helpees," this network attitude must usually be nurtured and developed slowly, against powerful cultural cur- rents. Straight lecture- is probably the least effective way to inculcate network-positive attitudes. The most effective way is through practice of network exercises such as the ones that follow. Experience is by far the best teacher.

Humor helps, too. As an example, see the two cartoons on the following pages. When I use these with groups, the response I expect-which is not always the one I get-for the three- woman cartoon is: 'We can't leave the last woman in that hole!" (in the last frame) 'Go get a rope and come back," say some, or "get a hose, flood the hole, and throw her a life preserver," said one person (I am not making this up!).


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Once upon a time,
there were some people stuck in a pit…

They tried to fly out
by flapping their arms…

They tried jumping …

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They tried mediation
and levitation…

They even tried
climbing the walls…

This went on for years and years until
they had tried everything except
helping each other out…

Not Just For Laughs(871 bytes)

So they helped each other out!

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Not Just For Laughs (3601 bytes)

As for the two donkeys, winning entries for captions have included:

'Cooperating is better than competition.' "Pull together or we'll get pulled apart."

'If you're going to be an ass about it, well all starve!"

Finally, caricature of what not to do can enhance our appreciation of network attitude. Here is an example, contributed by Connie Hyatt of the Oregon State Department of Human Resources. Her network-averse types are oriented some what towards volunteer programs in agencies, rather than all-volunteer groups. But the overall relevance is crystal clear.

"Turf Ogre": A person with insecurities who needs to control. Turf Ogres can be found dominating meetings, identifying (other's) successful projects by the pronoun we, hiding names of volunteers, never mentioning funding sources, looking after #1, and in general being difficult. Turf Ogres fear the 'pirating away" of volunteers more than any other calamity they can imagine. They en- counter great difficulty dealing with volunteers who do not see themselves as slaves.

"Co-Opter": A person with a silky smile and an overly agreeable nature. Co-opting is a very effective way to neutralize the competition. Co-opters want to own people and are, in general, immature, insecure and lacking in a sense of professionalism. A Co-Opter "assimilates" the competition by including them as members, making their activity a part of her/his newsletter, making sure that the competition is always invited to recognition events and receives a reward if possible. In these ways, a Co-Opter will destroy the competition's ability to relate to anybody else. Co-Opters encounter great difficulty with networks, democracy, the vote, adults, etc. (Watch out you don't wake up and find yourself in their network, never knowing -how it happened.)

"The Lone Arranger": A person with the "only I can do it" martyr syndrome. Lone Arrangers can be found working late, reassuring the world that only their agency is helping resolve a problem (mainly because they won't let anyone else help), heaving sighs of fatigue while volunteering to take on added tasks, suffering burnout while making sure that no- body can rescue them and generally seeking lots of sympathy. The word 'delegation' is frightening to a Lone Arranger.

((((Connie Hyatt, quoted in Susan Dryovage and Ivan Scheier, 'The Bridge: A Guide for Networkers" (Boulder, CO: Yellowfire Press, 1981)))))

People can be asked to give examples from their experience of these three anti-network types-and perhaps add some others as well (though three are quite enough!). We're not trying to advocate here that people such as these must be excluded entirely from our net- works. Rather, we're trying to recognize that there is a little of each type in all of us and understanding this is the first step in improving our networking performance.

Finally, the 'Code of Behavior for Networkers" on the next page is a humorous endorsement of pro-network attitudes.

Having Simple Rules
The first network-facilitation strategies I devised were elaborations of what I'd seen successful networkers actually doing. These elaborations didn't work, usually. Apparently people in real-life situations don't ordinarily need complex procedures for doing what comes naturally. What they need, it seems, are simple but powerful rules and principles. These are more like triggers for releasing mutual aid energy than channels for restricting it.

I rest my case on your experience with the following network exercises. And I wish you luck with your non-staffed volunteer group. Beyond luck, I wish you understanding, which means success.


BE COWARDLY. Sure, there may be some deep rough problems between you. Stay away from them, in fact, avoid them like the plague. Go for the easier issues first and get some successes under your belt. Save the bravery for later, when everyone is feeling good about how well the cooperation is working.

BE SHORT-SIGHTED. It's not just that you want to load the dice for some sure successes early on. You also want those to be quick payoffs. People are probably wondering whether this try at network cooperation is ever going to work at all. In that frame of mind, they won't wait in line too long for the first positive results. So make the motivation happen fast.

BE A BUSYBODY. Be nosy about other people's business. At least, until you're sure you understand their strengths well enough to capitalize on them. Be just as sure to learn their no-no's so you can avoid their aversions.

BE SELFISH. Ask if there's something in it for you and be darn sure you get the right answers.

BE A SUCKER. Once you're sure there's something in it for you, worry a little about whether other people are getting their goodies from the network. Go ahead, be a bleeding heart.

BE DISTRUSTFUL. Look for performance, not promises, deeds not Words.

...and above all

BE DISRESPECTFUL, of the notion that all help has to be delivered down to us by highly trained specialists. Believe instead that ordinary people and groups can give each other a whole lot of real help, without always having to call in the outside experts.

Think you can measure up?

Maybe you can even add to the list, or turn it around to positive characteristics. Go ahead, be critical.


The following is a small sample of methods for creating and strengthening networks. All were stolen from successful networkers observed over the years; I've only tried to impose analysis on what expresses itself more naturally and spontaneously in real life. As for the wonderful 'style" one sees so often in the brilliant networker, I doubt this can ever be reduced to 'steps" and I haven't even tried to.

Earlier versions of these exercises appeared in a series of Yellowfire Press publications, now out of print.

The following processes can be used as training exercises. As such, they are often incorporated illustratively with the general orientation described in Chapter 7. The methods can serve equally as 'triggers" or initiators for actual networks. Only be sure to tell participants clearly-and up front-which use is intended.

Relatively simple and easy exercises tend to be placed earlier in this section. Otherwise, order of presentation has no particular significance.

When Everyone's a Volunteer   by Ivan Scheier is available for purchase from Energize.