Scaling impact with collaborations and partnerships

Scaling impact with collaborations and partnerships

Posted on June 19, 2012 by Michael Corley

Rob Lane and I just attended the Social Impact Exchange Conference, which this year focused on "scaling impact" as it brought together funders, advisors, wealth managers, intermediaries, nonprofits, researchers and others.

From a definition point of view, Scaling Impact means many different things. At its core, as I understand, Scaling Impact in the nonprofit sector means to take a program, idea, or organization and expand it.  This sounds relatively straightforward, but as I learned, there are unique challenges to doing this in the nonprofit world vis-a-vis the for profit world.

Common challenges to "scaling" discussed throughout the conference include: the lack of a marketplace in which nonprofits can access capital, lack of a standardized infrastructure to measure and leverage nonprofits and/or specific programs, limited leadership development to be in a position to effectively operationalize a scaling strategy, and limited effective collaboration at the funder and nonprofit levels.  Fortunately, many organizations and individuals are working to mitigate these challenges.

Most relevant to The Patterson Foundation were the discussions about collaborations and partnerships and how these can provide "scale". We learned it is one challenge to take a single organization or program to scale, but driving scale through a collaboration or partnership is infinitely more complex. As TPF evolves, we see an opportunity to focus our work on supporting and leveraging collaborations and partnerships.

So what are "collaborations" or "partnerships" for TPF purposes?  The situation when two or more unrelated organizations agree to jointly approach an opportunity and are prepared to evolve their "ways of doing business" in order to accomplish the objective. There is a greater social good being created, and this can only be accomplished by multiple organizations working together.

The Collective Impact model, developed by John Kania and Mark Kramer as described in the Winter 2011 issue of the  Stanford Social Innovation Review, was referenced throughout the conference. This is the model being deployed by NCOA for the Self Care Management Alliance initiative (of which TPF is a partner.)  This model is structured to support and manage collaborations and partnerships. Characteristics across constituents that are necessary for a successful collaboration include:

1) Common Agenda

2) Shared Measurement Systems

3) Mutually Reinforcing Activities

4) Continuous Communication

5) Backbone Support Organization

I give credit to Kania and Kramer because they have put forth a structure for creating an environment for successful collaborations. If I had to add something we at  TPF have learned over the past two years of working with multiple parties, it would be the importance of establishing TRUST prior to entering the collaboration and the need to COMMUNICATE.

Without trust firmly rooted in the relationship, the partnership or collaboration will have a difficult time withstanding the pressures it will experience. Without a consistent and intentional flow of communication, the partnership will have difficulty creating the rhythm necessary for success.


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