Recent work at The Patterson Foundation has exposed us to a new layer to social listening and intentional conversations. That is: Understanding the difference between wholesale and retail.
I was recently in Washington, D.C. to facilitate and participate in a round table of organizations interested in community building. Brought together to chart a new course for LikeMinded.org, thought leaders from AmeriCorps, Changemakers, ICMA and others discussed how to help organizations with similar goals work together.
The groups represented had much in common; all are, in their own way, focused on creating better neighborhoods and communities. All are interested in collaborating. All acknowledge that the energy spent building silos is a fraction of the energy needed to break them down. Our work at TPF exposes us to that daily. Good intentions become infrastructures, which become barriers to collaboration.
But if you’re going to break down silos, should your focus be on the institutions themselves (wholesale) or the individuals/volunteers (retail)?
If you’re building a strategy to find and connect people with similar missions, guide them to existing resources and create an ongoing learning network, you need to choose. Wholesale or retail? Because they are not the same constituents, even though they share a passion.
In the LikeMinded example, they would be defined like this:
- Wholesale: Institution leadership of organizations focused on building better communities.; i.e., many of the entities at our discussion.
- Retail: People who live in communities who want to volunteer, get involved, do more; i.e., people who understand that voting is a small piece of what it means to be a good citizen.
If you build a wholesale strategy for institution leadership to talk, collaborate and share, you build it knowing that each institution already has an internal infrastructure for sharing knowledge. There are things they won’t disclose. They are invested in their own sustainability and likely see similar organizations as threats to funding, membership, brand and goodwill. While the conversations that will take place with a wholesale strategy will include high-office leadership, the conversations will be careful ones, to say the least.
If you build a retail strategy for on-the-street citizens to talk, collaborate and share, you build it knowing that it’s grass-roots. It will connect people with local and topical volunteer opportunities and drive community involvement – but won’t directly influence the nonprofits and other organizations in that space. It will be a Match.com for doing good, and the silos it breaks down will be at the individual level.
Both are worthy strategies. But one platform can’t serve both.