This often-cited article published in 2011 describes how both funders and grantees in the non-profit sector can achieve greater “collective impact” through strategies that invest in coordination and infrastructure among stakeholders to facilitate more system-level change. The authors are managing directors at FSG, a “social impact” consulting firm.
The authors define “collective impact” as the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem. Unlike collaborations, networks, partnerships, and other joint activities, 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. The premise of collective impact approaches is that large-scale social change comes from better cross-sector coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations.
The usual dynamic of current funders and grantees is to focus on what the authors call “isolated impact.” Most funders, faced with the task of choosing a few grantees from many applicants, try to ascertain which organizations make the greatest contribution toward solving a social problem. Grantees, in turn, compete to be chosen by emphasizing how their individual activities produce the greatest effect. Each organization is judged on its own potential to achieve impact, independent of the numerous other organizations that may also influence the issue. And when a grantee is asked to evaluate the impact of its work, every attempt is made to isolate that grantee’s individual influence from all other variables. The hope is that the most effective organizations will grow or replicate to extend their impact more widely. As a result of this process, nearly 1.4 million nonprofits in the U.S. 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.
Successful collective impact initiatives typically have five conditions that together produce true alignment and lead to powerful results:
+ a common agenda
+ shared measurement systems
+ mutually reinforcing activities
+ continuous communication, and
+ a “backbone support organization”
The authors describe “backbone support organizations” as requiring dedicated staff separate from the participating organizations who can plan, manage, and support the initiative through ongoing facilitation, technology and communications support, data collection and reporting, and handling the myriad logistical and administrative details needed for the initiative to function smoothly.