Relationship Building As A Measure of Impact

October 20, 2011 //

By John Esterle

(The following can also be found on Beth Kanter’s blog, as a guest post from John.)

One of the themes raised up as the GEO/Monitor Institute conference came to an end was the importance of trust and relationship building in networks. Indeed, that was my theme for the day given that I facilitated a couple of morning conversations on that topic and then in the afternoon heard Ify Mora from the Barr Foundation ( talk about how they use social network mapping to capture the relationships that have been built through their innovative Fellows Program.

So, as I leave the conference I’m wondering how storytelling might be combined with social network mapping to make the broader case within philanthropy that relationship building — and the spaces and processes that support it — matter. It’s an important challenge to meet because I think that unless relationship building is broadly recognized as a key measure of impact, it will continue to be under-resourced (to the detriment of achieving the larger goals and outcomes people are working toward).

The philanthropic exploration of networks potentially offers a new platform or frame to talk about the need to explicitly value process and relationship-based work. And that opportunity links to the other top two network themes raised up in today’s final session: the value of values (naming what’s important) and the need for funders to see themselves as changemakers within networks rather than just funders. In short, what might be gained by funders taking off their organizational hats and bringing our whole selves into the equation?

I think if more funders do step outside of their traditional roles it will be through different kinds of relationships with both grantees and other funders. And, as was apparent throughout various conference discussions, those relationships will blossom if they are built on trust, humility, and a willingness to be both vulnerable and generous with each other.

So, a percolating question for me going forward, both individually and organizationally, is:

How do we walk our talk when it comes to operating with a network mindset where process and relationships truly matter?


  1. Paul on October 26, 2011 at 11:55 am

    John, thanks for acknowledging the important role that trust and humility play in grantee-funder relationships. Network-building does seem like a tangible way for funders to address the power dynamics that often impede genuine partnership with grantees.