How nonprofits can create a structure for collective impact

How nonprofits can create a structure for collective impact

Posted on June 28, 2012 by Pam Truitt

Eighteen months ago, John Kania and Mark Kramer of FSG Consulting wrote a piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that pulls together the necessary ingredients for creating large-scale change in the nonprofit world. Not only does their work provide an excellent outline for creating the structure, it also produced a new word: collective impact. It’s a good read plus a bunch of folks provided insightful comments—so be sure to read those, too!

Following the SSIR article, the firm produced the Collective Impact video series, which could be useful in a variety of settings and provide examples of how the structure has worked.

The 5 ingredients are:

1) Common Agenda

Those in the effort must come to agreement around the approach—whether it be a problem or opportunity. Many times well-meaning groups (funders and nonprofits) believe they are on the same page in terms of a large and complex social issue, but frequently they are not. If these differences are not addressed, they will, over time, fuel division and divisiveness.

2) Shared Measurement Systems

This is essential; common agenda is illusory without agreement on the ways success will be measured and reported. Collecting data and measuring results consistently on a short list of indicators at the community level and across all participating organizations not only ensures that all efforts remain aligned, it also enables the participants to hold each other accountable and learn from each other’s successes and failures. (This is exactly as Kania & Kramer wrote in the SSIR article and I couldn’t say it better.)

3) Mutually Reinforcing Activities

Interdependence is the key word here and leverage will come from coordinating the efforts. The trick is to exploit the talents of individual organizations and talents aren’t uniformly distributed.

4) Continuous Communication

One cannot say enough about the value of communication because it is the conduit for building trust between the organizations. Kania and Kramer believe it will take several years of regular contact for the organizations to feel comfortable with each other, enabling the conversations around collective impact to emerge. Oh, and the decisions makers must be at the table. Delegating meetings to a staff person with no authority won’t work. How do you keep the groups excited and interested? Engage an external facilitator.

5) Backbone Support Organizations

I found this quite interesting. I agree that collaboration efforts (trust building, face time, shared decision-making) can consume one’s day, but the authors contend that the collaboration efforts will only be successful if they are set-up from the outside so that it can survive the crush of day-to-day operations. If that’s true, how does the organization build a shared culture that drives the common agenda?

For those in the nonprofit space, what are your thoughts?


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