In this two-part series on Stanford Social Innovation Review’s blog, FSG’s Katherine Errecart and Anjali Bhatt, and Shiloh Turner, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s vice president for Community Investment, discuss the importance of backbone organizations in collective impact initiatives. The first part of this series outlines the sources of influence that enable backbone organizations to shape and guide the work of collective impact.

Exerting Influence Without Formal Authority
By Shiloh Turner, Katherine Errecart, & Anjali Bhatt | Dec. 2, 2013

Last year, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) engaged the nonprofit consulting firm FSG to help understand and evaluate the role of backbone organizations in collective impact efforts, which culminated in a four-part blog series for Stanford Social Innovation Review entitled, “Understanding the Value of Backbone Organizations in Collective Impact.” This year, GCF engaged FSG as evaluators to assess the importance of backbone organizations in collective impact, with a targeted focus on the question of how and to what extent backbone organizations influence their constituents without formal authority. This series summarizes the findings from this effort, outlining in part one the sources of influence that enable backbone organizations to shape and guide the work of collective impact, and in part two the measures of influence that can help to demonstrate the backbone’s contributions to the collective impact effort.

Much of the work of collective impact depends on the ability to change the attitudes and behaviors of a diverse array of stakeholders. After all, you need to build consensus to establish a common goal; you need all partners to agree on the same set of shared metrics to collectively monitor progress; and you need collaboration and communication to identify mutually reinforcing activities that can help drive the work forward. The responsibility for affecting these changes in attitudes and behaviors often falls to the backbone organization, which has no formal authority over those it seeks to influence.