Many trends in the nonprofit sector pop up and then fizzle
as quickly as they have appeared, while a few stick around and have a
significant impact on how organizations operate. After having the opportunity
to work with a few organizations that are pursuing a collective impact model
and hearing this term at nearly every meeting I attend, I am convinced this
trend is one that will stick around and could result in fundamentally changing
the way some organizations do their work and achieve their missions. Additionally,
many funders are enthusiastic about the concept of collective impact and how
such models have the potential to really advance social change and improve
outcomes in specific sectors, like education.
If you are not familiar with this concept, an article from
the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s Winter 2011 edition (see link at the
bottom of this article) summarizes it this way, “Unlike most collaborations,
collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated
staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared
measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities
among all participants.” Essentially, individual organizations, often from
across the different sectors, work together to define common goals and intended
outcomes and then work in a coordinated manner to achieve their often audacious
goals over time.
One long-time critique of the nonprofit sector has been that
many small organizations work in isolation, essentially using up resources to
only peck at very complex problems. In the view of the authors, John Kania and
Mark Kramer, of SSIR’s “Collective Impact” article, the result is that “nearly
1.4 million nonprofits try to invent independent solutions to major social
problems, often working at odds with each other and exponentially increasing
the perceived resources required to make meaningful progress.” With a
collective impact approach, organizations across sectors start working in a
coordinated and aligned manner with the goal of making significantly greater
progress on the issue they are addressing with the additional goal of better
Moving your organization toward a full collective impact
model requires willing partners across sectors, a long-term view and often a
dramatically different approach to your work. Thus, it can be out of reach for
some nonprofit organizations. Still, organizations can learn from and adapt
some of these approaches to improve their effectiveness without becoming part
of a full collective impact project. Consider the following ideas as a few
places to start in thinking about what the collective impact trend means for
- Help board and staff members understand the
collective impact model as an emerging and important trend in the nonprofit
sector. Share the SSIR article during board and staff meetings and allow time
to discuss the implications for your organization’s work.
- Get a sense of how other organizations, inside
and outside of your community, are using this approach to accomplish goals that
are similar to your organization’s goals.
- As part of your next planning process, consider
how elements of a collective impact approach could be applied to your
organization’s approach and programs.
- Consider how better aligning your goals and
measures of success with partner organizations could help improve outcomes and
effectiveness for everyone involved.
- If you could see the collective impact idea
working for your organization and your mission focus area, start working with
partners to possibly put this kind of model into effect. More organizations are
becoming involved in these kinds of initiatives, so some of your colleagues may
be able to share ideas and lessons learned to help you get started in advancing
this kind of approach. Nationally, the Strive Partnership (www.strivetogether.org) is one of the
more prominent examples of collective impact in action. Locally in Colorado,
Boulder IMPACT (www.bouldercountyimpact.org)
and the Adams County Youth Initiative (www.acyi.org)
are two examples of organizations advancing this model in different ways and at
different stages of development.
With the concept of collective impact gaining momentum and
support and resources continuing to become more scarce, it is essential for
nonprofit leaders to consider how their organizations could achieve more
through these kinds of deep partnerships. For organizations working on complex
social problems, collective impact approaches may become the standard, so your
organization should be prepared to shift your approach, take part and possibly
provide leadership in this new way of working.
You can read more about collective impact, example initiatives
and how such initiatives are often structured here: http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact.
by Sarah Marino-Fischler