Posts Tagged ‘collective impact’

Is your glass half-full with assets?

“More than 80% of the kids at our school live at or below the poverty line; many of our families have to choose between food/diapers/rent…,” said the parent’s note when it was handed to my husband.

Every December for the past nine years, my husband’s company spends an entire day decorating and preparing a local school so they can throw a holiday party that evening for the students and their families. They host a holiday meal and enjoy games, face painting, portraits and a visit from Santa.

As the parents enter the school with their kids, most look exhausted from a long day, perhaps working more than one job, but their moods lift when their children see the celebration awaiting them. One of the mothers put this small folded note into my husband’s hand as she scooted past him and entered the classroom designated for face painting. She’d clearly typed up this message and made copies so she could hand it out to the volunteers that evening.

Once an in-house holiday party…

My husband’s company identified its annual holiday party as an opportunity to provide its celebration to an organization with greater need. After developing a relationship with the school administrators, they discovered how much these school communities need a break from the constant financial strain of living at or below the poverty level. Rather than hold a corporate party for the employees, the company decided to offer a party for one school and its community on an annual basis.

One asset leads to the discovery of others

While choosing a different school every year was appreciated, they soon realized the heightened value of continuity and the importance of developing a relationship with one school over time. Plus, they could collaboratively identify other ways of working together. Last year, the company made a three-year commitment to one school in particular because of their shared commitment to education and college-bound students. The partnership provides a forum for discovery of what each partner can bring to the table and a channel for additional educational initiatives, including monetary donations, technology and volunteer hours. Activities and events include support for launching the school’s first library, a Book Trust fundraising drive, reading campaigns, science lab enhancements, teacher appreciation luncheons, learning technologies and teacher meeting spaces. The partnership will also help the school expand their curriculum to include fourth and fifth grades by the 2015-2016 school year.

Focusing on assets versus needs

This partnership between the company and school is a perfect example of identifying one’s assets to address a local need. The authors of When People Care Enough to Act would ask you to pay close attention to a community’s assets rather than immediately and exclusively focusing on needs, which yield limited results. By partnering with this school, the administrators were able to identify and tap into their own strengths as well as pursue a vision they had for their students, one of which was building a curriculum for fourth and fifth graders.

When People Care Enough to Act is based on the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach that focuses on “discovering and mobilizing the resources that are already present in a community,” say Green, Moore and O’Brien. In other words, the authors demonstrate that every community has more potential resources than any one person knows.

What’s inside?

This workbook is meant to be a friendly catalyst to you, the community builder. No matter what your role–agency leader, staff community organizer or citizen—you will learn about your options to act more effectively for a stronger community. You’ll learn about the three qualities of effective community development, the five building blocks of any healthy community and the three interconnected activities surrounding Asset Based Community Development. Finally, the authors will explore key themes that define a framework for action.

Guiding principles for asset-based community building

I asked author, Mike Green, to elaborate on the difference between an asset-based approach and needs-based approach. Below you’ll find his answer and an excerpt of 12 guiding principles:

Green: Most communities address social and economic problems with only a small amount of their total capacity. Much community capacity is not used and is needed! This is the challenge and opportunity of ABCD. Everyone in a community has something to offer. There is no one we don’t need.

Here are the first four of twelve guiding principles of ABCD in action:

1.) Everyone has gifts. With rare exception people can contribute and want to contribute. Gifts must be discovered. Gift giving opportunities must be offered. Strong communities know they need everyone. There is unrecognized capacity and assets in every community. Find it.

2.) Relationships build a community. See them, make them and utilize them. An intentional effort to build and nourish relationships is the core of ABCD and of all community building.

3.) Residents at the center can engage the wider community. People in leadership in everyday life (associations, congregations, neighborhoods and local businesses) must be at the center of community initiatives rather than just helping agency leaders. It is essential to engage the wider community as actors (citizens) not just as recipients of services (clients).

4.) Leaders involve others as active members of the community. Leaders from the wider community of voluntary associations, congregations, neighborhoods, local businesses can engage others from their sector. Community building leaders always need to have a constituency of people to involve. This following is based on trust, influence and relationship. Strong community leaders invite a growing circle of people to act.

I encourage you to use this time of year to evaluate your personal, organizational and community assets and look for ways they can be of service to others. Mike Green and his coauthors would argue a community that focuses on its assets and how they can be best utilized has far more potential than a community absorbed by its needs.

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Toss your list of needs: Give thanks instead

“Seeing all assets of a community is like looking through a kaleidoscope: many colored chips of glass fit together in many different ways as you turn the scope,” say the authors of When People Care Enough to Act.

One of the guiding principles of this book we are currently reviewing for CausePlanet is grounded in the notion that we achieve genuinely effective community solutions if we focus on our assets rather than solely on our needs.

Authors Green, Moore and O’Brien would be proud of the students of Lancaster High School in Lancaster, California. The student body recently raised $80,000 earlier this year to design an accessible house for fellow community member and disabled Iraq War veteran, Jerral Hancock. Hancock was paralyzed and lost an arm in combat in 2007.

The entire community got involved soon thereafter. Local contractors, architects and real estate consultants donated manpower, local hardware stores offered discounts on supplies, and inmates at the local prison hosted an art sale to raise proceeds.

In chapter seven, “Building the Bridge From Client to Citizen,” the authors explain that “there is no one we don’t need” in a community. The Lancaster residents are a perfect example of this perspective. The authors further explore the great possibilities with inclusiveness and “seeing with a citizen’s eyes.” The people of Lancaster, California, viewed themselves as equal partners in creating a solution they cared about. When people care enough to act, it’s remarkable what can be accomplished.

Focusing on our community’s assets couldn’t come at a more appropriate time for Americans since we celebrate Thanksgiving this week. Our Canadian neighbors have already celebrated in October but the meaning is the same for both holidays. Thanksgiving commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621 and is a time to give thanks for what we have.

Rather than default to your list of needs, I encourage you to look at your organization and community and identify the assets. How does this perspective change your ability to tackle complex issues? What other organizations could be viewed as assets if you collaborate? Green, Moore and O’Brien would say it’s a great week to give thanks.

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Collective impact and what this trend means for your organization

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 utilizing resources.

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 your organization:

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 maybe able to share ideas and lessons learned to help you get started in advancing this kind of approach. Nationally, the Strive Partnership ( is one of the more prominent examples of collective impact in action. Locally in Colorado, Boulder IMPACT ( and the Adams County Youth Initiative ( 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:

            See also:

            Do More Than Give

            The Power of Collaborative Solutions

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