PMA Consulting, LLC

[Innovation Series] Collaboration and Collective Impact

Collective-ImpactIn late 2011, authors and nonprofit strategists John Kania and Mark Kramer published an article in the Stanford Innovation Review that has had a tremendous impact on how policy leaders, nonprofits and funders tackle large-scale social change on the community level.  Termed “Collective Impact,” the movement has rapidly spread across the United States, with leading funders in the Carolinas embracing it as the new way of moving the needle on a number of social causes.

In order to demystify the “Collective Impact” concept, Patton McDowell & Associates (PMA) has provided the following frequently asked questions for you.

What is Collective Impact?

Collective Impact urges communities to work together to create social change.  The authors’ research found a recurring theme of “isolated impact” in U.S. communities, where successful programs were brought to scale but disconnected from other organizations or efforts.  The “silo effect” limits impact and does not lead to lasting, large-scale social change. This concept suggests that nonprofits, government and the business sector must work together to create a common agenda for solving complex social problems.

What are the components of Collective Impact?

The authors have identified five “conditions” that produce successful alignment and lead to results:

  • Common Agenda – A shared vision for change typically includes a common definition and understanding of the problem, as well as a joint approach to solving it through well-defined actions.
  • Shared Measurement Systems – Data collection and measurement must be consistent across all participating entities, holding all partners accountable to the process.
  • Mutually Reinforcing Activities – Each stakeholder’s efforts must fit into the overarching plan, not by requiring all participants to do the same thing, but instead through differentiated action that is coordinated.
  • Continuous Communication – Consistent and open communication is needed across the stakeholders to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and appreciate common motivation.
  • Backbone Support Organizations – According to the authors (and contested by PMA below), a separate organization is needed to manage the process and serve as a “backbone” for coordination.

How does it affect me and my nonprofit?

Nonprofits in the Carolinas have been hearing about the need for greater alignment and collaboration in the wake of the downturn.  That narrative has shifted away from being resource-driven and instead focused on making lasting change.

In March 2013, the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organizations (SCANPO) closed its spring conference with a plenary session focused on implementing Collective Impact projects. Speakers included Rhett Mabry, VP at The Duke Endowment, who serves as a strong proponent of the collective impact model. In the future, nonprofits in the Carolinas should expect greater coordination between funders, umbrella organizations like the United Way and government agencies.

What is PMA’s take on the Collective Impact movement?                        

PMA is very supportive of the Collective Impact concept.  Large-scale coordination is critical to lasting change, and the firm is committed to encouraging greater collaboration between nonprofits in the Carolinas. Of the five conditions for Collective Impact, PMA disagrees with just one – the notion that managing collective impact requires a separate backbone organization providing coordination.

Consider this: if you were the CEO of XYZ Corporation, and you wanted to implement change across the entire company, would you create a new department to manage the implementation of that change?  Or would you seek change agents in each department to work together to implement it?  Perhaps you would elect a leader within that group, but you likely wouldn’t create a separate infrastructure.

The notion of a backbone organization, like the collective fundraising models of the past, is an outdated model.  These days, sophisticated nonprofit agencies with an understanding of programming design and implementation are capable of serving as the backbone for these initiatives, even as they require coordination outside of a nonprofit’s specific mission focus.

PMA believes it is time to recognize the strength of our best nonprofit agencies to lead coordinated efforts with their strong brand identity, excellent community leadership, histories of efficient & effective programmatic implementation and demonstrated understanding of the importance of measurement.  Entrusting these efforts to our strongest agencies does not create mission creep or confuse the system.  Instead, it empowers the nonprofit sector to not just work together in a top-down, funder-directed way, but to create authentic, trusted relationships that forever change collaboration in the sector.