Quebec’s community sector is rich and vibrant in many ways. This month, we’re examining the relative importance of participating in networks, and particularly, several networking opportunities which may be less visible to some groups. Does your organization participate in networks? Why, or why not? In which ones, and how much effort and time do you devote to networking with your sector and other groups?
Why Should NonProfits Network?
COCo’s research for the In The Know project indicated that while most community groups contacted participated in community networks (73%) both local and national, participation in provincial networks seemed more prevalent in groups getting core mission funding (60%) than in groups that didn’t (23%). “This finding suggests that groups without global mission funding may not be active in networks that will help secure funding opportunities.” Click here for more In The Know Findings.
Finding a network that can help you secure funding opportunities you are eligible for may be a sufficient reason to reexamine your organization’s network participation, but there’s even more to get from a network than funding opportunities, such as resources, support, allies, information, training, a voice for advocacy, building collective strength, improving practices in the sector, referrals, a place to bring a social justice cause, visibility, etc. Are you thinking about what you’re currently getting out of networks, and what you could be getting? Knowing why you network (or why you don’t) can be as important as the choice of networks you join, and should definitely inform the latter.
Which Networks Are Most Important?
Once you know what you want from a network, you should research different networks you may be eligible to join. What unites networks can be a common cause (such as human rights), similar work (sectoral, such as education), realities shared by several sectors (multi-sectoral), a common community or location (local, regional, provincial), or a shared language (anglophone networks for instance). Before joining a specific network, you’ll want to explore it a bit. You’ll want to know about their level of activity, their democratic culture, benefits they can provide members, and how compatible they are with your mission and values. You can get this information from their website, by meeting with them, or by asking current members.
You can learn about networks from other organizations, newsletters, or by research on the Internet. There are a lot of networks out there to choose from, and we can only mention a few here (look to the bottom of this COCo Note). If you’re not finding what you’re looking for, or don’t know where to start, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at COCo : firstname.lastname@example.org
A useful tool (in French) to be introduced to the number and diversity of community networks is the Montreal and Quebec Community Network Map by L’Autre Montréal. It lists various types of local groups and networks, as well as regional and provincial ones, and some key specific ones are named as well. It even lists networks of networks, so you can work backwards, finding a regional network you want to work with from a provincial coalition in the same sector that it may be a part of.
How engaged should we be?
Though some networks require paid membership, the time required for participation is likely an even bigger investment, so this should be evaluated and factored carefully, and you should think strategically about this, even with free memberships. Your level of engagement as a network member can and should be based on what you aim to achieve there as well as your current organizational capacity. These can of course vary through time, and so can your ideal level of engagement, which can go from a nominal membership, where you only passively or occasionally attend meetings, to an active membership, where you participate actively in meetings and consultations, or even all the way to a leadership role, where your organization brings energy and ideas to the network or spearheads collective efforts and campaigns. There are good chances that more active participation in a well-chosen network can yield more benefits, and you may have more say and control over what you can get out of your network participation.
Autonomous Community Action
To highlight just one of the larger networks, the RQ-ACA or Réseau québecois de l’action communautaire autonome, represents a segment of the community sector based on the principle of Autonomous Community Action, which is defined by 8 criteria.
The 4 criteria of a Community Organization are :
- To be an incorporated non-profit (provincial or federal);
- To be rooted in a community;
- To maintain a participatory and democratic culture;
- To be free to self-determine mission, orientations, approaches and practices.
The 4 additional criteria for Autonomous Community Action Organizations are:
- To have been created at the initiative of community members;
- To have a mission that aims at social transformation;
- To promote active citizenship and integrated approaches to problems;
- To be governed by a Board that is independent from the public sector.
The RQ-ACA is an active provincial network, providing information to members on the sector, consulting them on government policies, and advocating for the needs of the various sectors that make up Autonomous Community Action. They played a key role interacting with the government to obtain a policy on the autonomy of the community sector, and in advocating successfully for more core funding for autonomous community groups. The majority of the RQ-ACA’s 4000 members participate through a member network, meaning that you may currently be a member indirectly through one of these. COCo is a member of the RQ-ACA through the COCAF, for instance.
Some More Examples of Community Networks:
There are also several Quebec English-speaking networks, such as
- CHSSN – Community Health and Social Services Network
- ELAN – English Language Arts Network
- QAAL – Quebec Association for Adult Learning
- QAHN – Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network
- QCGN – Quebec Community Groups Network
- QDF – Quebec Drama Federation
- QELA – Quebec Essential Learning Alliance
- LVQ – Literacy Volunteers of Quebe
For more information:
- (514) 849-5599