Affinity Networks Are Where the Heart Is

A recent Nonprofit Quarterly writeup on networks details two kinds of networks: “purposeful action networks” and “social change networks.” While these two categories might be sufficient for people networking in a professional capacity, the NPQ piece doesn’t mention another type of network, a network that is among all networks most easily taken for granted: the affinity network.

An affinity network isn’t necessarily organized around a shared goal, but rather around a shared experience or interest. They can be knitting clubs, religious groups, nonprofit networks, alumni communities, companies, and everything in between. Unlike purposeful action networks and social change, the “why” isn’t so much what holds an affinity network together—the “we” is. The other members of our affinity networks are the people we intuitively trust. Purposeful action networks and social change networks can be powerful allies in specific initiatives, but affinity networks will always be there to support its members on an individual basis. Remember Robert Frost’s definition: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Social change networks and purposeful action networks are honed like an axe blade or focused and forceful like a hammer. Affinity networks are like oceans of warm waves or shading stands of forest, there to buoy and nurture you in all aspects of life. We’ve all hopefully had moments when our affinity networks are there for us—and we for them—when a knitting club member offers you a ride, an old classmate lets you stay the night on her couch, or when you offer to photograph the wedding of a member of your religious community for free.

In the hustle and bustle of life, it can be difficult or daunting to ask for help from or offer help to members of our affinity networks. Current social platforms that exist to connect people can help, but they usually aren’t the right tool for the job. They lack the simplicity and, well, love that makes affinity networks what they are. There’s no one good place for affinity networks to manifest that love as action. We hope to change that.