As not-for-profits taking on broader societal and cultural issues, such as income equality, access to healthcare, some are looking to the emerging approach of “collective impact.” This includes coordinating nonprofit organizations across sectors to achieve more significant change than isolated interventions by individual groups. These shared initiatives can fundraise together and require substantial coordination and may require nonprofit audit services to ensure distribution and spending across organizations is structured properly.
A shared initiative
Collective impact is more than just collaboration. It is the coming together of established players such as nonprofits, government, businesses and community members that share an overarching mission for specific social problems that bring them together for a common agenda.
For example, a few years ago, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation in Southeast Virginia initiated a region-wide process to improve early care and education programs. Almost 100 stakeholders planned a program that would unite previously disparate efforts and participants. Since then, the “Minus 9 to 5” initiative has been able to align actions across five cities in Virginia. As this example illustrates, collective impact can achieve significant impact but are also complicated, long-term initiatives that requires commitment from all the stakeholders involved.
The 5 conditions for collective impact
Organizers of collective impact initiative typically cite five requirements to be successful:
- Common agenda: Stakeholders must be aligned in their vision of change and their understanding of the problem. Without a common plan, efforts can fracture and result in individual organization efforts instead of the collective effects.
- Success metrics: Participating stakeholder must also agree on what defines success and how that will be measured. Without a shared approach to data, accountability and information sharing can falter in the initiative.
- Coordinated activities: An overall project plan must be generated that allows each stakeholder to leverage their strengths to contribute to the common agenda through delivering success metrics. This requires an agreement of the collective impact activities and their associated teams.
- Continuous communication: As multiple stakeholders who have not collaborated before will be executing concurrent work toward a shared goal, effective communication is crucial. Not only to retain cohesion of the group but also to integrate agility in the initiative’s execution as strategies shift with new information.
- Backbone support organizations. Collective impact requires a separate organization with its infrastructure to provide the project’s “backbone.” This includes a dedicated staff to plan, manage and support the organization.
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