How Philanthropy Can Help Support Communities During Covid-19

As we navigate through the ongoing crisis that is the covid-19 pandemic, we share an interview with Dr. Lauren Smith, co-CEO of FSG, who discusses her own public health experience during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. From that experience, she shares some key ways that philanthropy can support their grantees and communities right now during the pandemic.

Ways to Listen: Stream this episode below or download the MP3 at the link on the left to this page. You can also listen via Itunes, Spotify, Simplecast, Sticher, iHeartRadio, and other podcast apps.

Footnotes and Resources for this episode

More related to dealing with the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic

More on Collective Impact approach to collaborate for social change:

Have a question related to collaborative work that you'd like to have discussed on the podcast? You can send it to our short podcast listener survey or at info@collectiveimpactforum.org.

Listen to Past Episodes: Listen to past episodes in the Forum resource library. You can also listen and subscribe via Itunes, Spotify, Simplecast, Sticher, iHeartRadio, and other podcast apps.

Inside Funder-Intermediary-Evaluator Partnerships: Three Cases

Posted Friday, April 26, 2019 at 10:26 am

By Meg Long and Clare Nolan

Funders who have ambitious goals to change large systems often create partnerships with intermediaries and evaluators to help realize their visions. But what does it take to effectively weave these partners together and position them to achieve their goals? While these three-way partnerships are common in the social sector, our initial scan of the literature mostly revealed substantive resources on two-way relationships—how funders can partner with intermediaries, and how they can partner with evaluators. However, very few resources spoke to funder partnerships involving intermediaries and evaluators.

Exploring cases of varyingly-configured funder-intermediary-evaluator partnerships can illuminate issues that may arise, and can also help determine strategies for managing those tensions. Though the three case examples covered here differ in terms of content, geography, investment, time-span, and partner roles, all three partnerships encountered—and successfully navigated—relationship tensions.

Linked Learning Regional Hubs of Excellence

In 2015, The James Irvine Foundation engaged Jobs for the Future (JFF) as an intermediary to help design and manage a cross-sector systems change initiative which aimed to increase the quality and scale of Linked Learning, an evidence-based approach to college and career readiness in California. Because the foundation was testing a new strategy—translating an educational model into a broader regional systems approach—they saw value in commissioning a collaborative evaluation. Considering pre-existing relationships and the Foundation’s appreciation of their expertise in developmental evaluation and systems change initiatives, Irvine commissioned Equal Measure, Engage R+D, and Harder+Company Community Research for the evaluation.

Having identified and funded the intermediary and evaluation teams directly, Irvine played a major role in managing partner relationships and setting the tone for sharing learnings and insights across the Linked Learning initiative. As one JFF staff member noted, “The funder set just the right tone to create more space for this kind of honest trust-building… It accelerated things.” And according to Irvine, “Having an evaluation partner in charge of external observations and then curating and facilitating that reflection process has been so powerful,” because it built the capacity of the intermediary and the funder to engage in authentic assessments of the partnership structure in-person and digitally.

Some tensions between the partners took time to overcome. For example, JFF staff were initially somewhat unclear about the role of the evaluation, which prompted deeper conversations to clarify partner roles and norms. In addition, reflection sessions became critical for building knowledge, trust, and the capacity of the partners. This time enabled the triad of partners to leverage the knowledge and expertise of each organization to strengthen learning overall.

Consumer Voices for Coverage

In 2007, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched Consumer Voices for Coverage (CVC)—a state-level advocacy initiative for health reform—with Community Catalyst as the intermediary. Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the partnership’s reform efforts moved from state to federal action. RWJF gave Community Catalyst leeway in oversight and subcontracting—enabling them to serve  as both the initial touch point for grantees and determine when it was necessary to obtain guidance from the funder. In the second phase of the initiative, RWJF sought to build the evaluation capacity of grantees and the intermediary by engaging Spark Policy Institute to provide evaluation coaching services. These services included “Evaluation 101” webinars, offering evaluation coaching to CVC grantees, and gathering feedback about the technical assistance that Community Catalyst provided. The purpose of this work was to help Community Catalyst and its grantees harness evaluation as a driver of effective advocacy.

The greatest challenge the partnership faced was generating grantee buy-in for evaluation capacity building. A number of grantees opted not to participate in the process. While some grantees cited capacity issues, others noted negative past experiences that dissuaded them from participating. However, grantees that engaged with Spark came to see the benefit of capacity building. As Community Catalyst put it, “To do that work and to have grantees define their own evaluation questions was really important and different.”

Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund

The Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (now known as the Opportunity Youth Forum) is a complex social change effort involving 34 regional and national funders designed to address unemployment and educational attainment for youth between 16 and 24 who are not currently in school or in the workforce. The partnership structure was derived from the multiple roles played by the Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions (AIFCS), which manages the funder collaborative. (The Aspen Forum for Community Solutions co-convenes the Collective Impact Forum with FSG.) These roles include implementation and providing national-scale voice for the work of the initiative. In managing the funders and partners AIFCS also serves as fiscal intermediary, developing a learning framework, monitoring collective impact, and building national momentum around the Opportunity Youth agenda. Jobs for the Future serves as implementation intermediary, while Equal Measure provides evaluation and design of thought leadership approaches for the partnership.

Though partners have varied perspectives and diverse experiences, and AIFCS coordinates their needs, roles, and communication, the initiative’s complex structure proves challenging at times. One challenge is that funders expect to see demonstrations of impact that may not always align with the pace of the initiative’s work and the scope of the evaluation. At the same time, a shared culture of learning unites the partners. Setting learning expectations and norms (such as being honest and learning from experience) upfront was critical. Particularly with grantees, promoting a culture of learning has encouraged risk-taking and learning from risks. Having many partners has accelerated AIFCS’ responsiveness to grantees’ learning and capacity building needs.

These case examples are but a small part of our recent report, Weaving Successful Partnerships: When Funders, Evaluators, and Intermediaries Work Together. In the report, we share five tensions that typically arise in funder-intermediary-evaluator partnerships, along with learning notes based on analysis of the various challenges that arise in these partnership triads.

Meg Long is president of Equal Measure; Clare Nolan is co-founder of Engage R+D


The What, Why, and How of Advancing Funder Openness

This webinar explores lessons learned from funders practicing openness within their organizations, with their grantees, and with other community stakeholders.


Download the slides to this presentation at the link on the left of this page. (Logging in to your Forum account will be necessary to download.)


  • Robert Albright, Director of Programs, Collective Impact Forum
  • Kimberly Bash, Program Director, The Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation
  • Perry Gunn, Executive Director, Teamwork Englewood
  • Bill Koll, Director, Communities Program, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
  • Ron McClain, Executive Director, Institute of Mental Hygiene

About this webinar

With support from the Fund for Shared Insight, the Collective Impact Forum has worked closely with eight grantmaking organizations in an “Action  Learning Lab” for improving foundation openness.

This webinar shares lessons learned from the action learning cohort, including practical insights for funders and how they engage with their grantees.

Participants will hear findings from the recently released report, Advancing Funders’ Openness Practices, summarizing the implications from the action learning projects, including practical insights on internal openness practices (e.g., Board buy-in around collective impact) and external openness practices (e.g., engaging and building relationships with grantees and community stakeholders).

Referenced Resources

Report: Advancing Funders’ Openness Practices: Lessons for the Field from the Collective Impact Funder Action Learning Lab

Guide: Facilitating Intentional Group Learning: A Practical Guide to 21 Learning Activities


Advancing Funders’ Openness Practices: Lessons for the Field from the Collective Impact Funder Action Learning Lab

With support from the Fund for Shared Insight, the Collective Impact Forum has worked closely with eight grantmaking organizations in an “Action Learning Lab” for improving foundation openness.

Their experiences and findings are now presented in the new report Advancing Funders’ Openness Practices: Lessons for the Field from the Collective Impact Funder Action Learning Lab.

This new report highlights key findings and feedback from both the Action Learning Lab and the broader Collective Impact Funder Community of Practice. In particular, the report goes more deeply into five learning themes—building trust, listening before acting, increasing transparency, building capacity for community engagement, and sustaining openness practices.

With each of these key learning areas, we focus on:

  1. The challenges that funders face in pursuing these openness practices,
  2. What has worked well in embracing each dimension of openness, and
  3. Tools and resources in the field that funders have found helpful

Throughout this report, we also include case studies on each of the participating funders’ action learning projects. Each case study underscores multiple lessons learned about practicing openness.

Download the full report with the link on the left of this page and find out more about the challenges each funder worked through and how they strengthened their openness practices. (Logging into your Collective Impact Forum account will be necessary to download the report.)

Stay tuned: We will host a free webinar later this spring that will highlight some of the participating funders’ lessons learned and share more about the report’s findings and implications.


Insights on Supporting Collective Impact

What advice do funders have about how to sustain momentum and impact in cross-sector partnerships? Two national funders and two local/regional funders answer this question and more in this opening plenary session from the 2017 Collective Impact Convening. This session was held on May 23, 2017.

Featured Speakers:

  • Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo
  • Jennifer Splansky Juster, Collective Impact Forum
  • Patrick McCarthy, Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • Hilary Pennington, Ford Foundation
  • Jocelyn Sargent, The Hyams Foundation


Lessons from Aligning Collective Impact Funders in Seattle

Plenary discussion from the 2016 Collective Impact Convening with Michael Brown – Seattle Foundation, Sally Gillis – Social Venture Partners, Ted Lord – Philanthropy Northwest, and Ken Thompson – Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This session was held on June 6, 2016.

About this session: Many funders ask their grantees to better align programs and services in service of collective impact goals. In addition, funders themselves often need to better coordinate their activities and investments in collective impact. Philanthropic alignment in collective impact can happen in several ways, such as formally pooling resources to support backbone infrastructure or informally coordinating investments on common agenda priorities. Funders in Seattle have formed an Aligned Funders group to discuss where and how to coordinate their investments in the Road Map Project, a cradle to career collective impact initiative in South King County, Washington. Hear from participants of this Aligned Funders group as they discuss opportunities and challenges with coordinating collective impact funder priorities.

Building the Capacity for Collective Action

Posted Tuesday, September 29, 2015 at 5:43 pm

No organization (or issue) is an island, and central to collective impact is the recognition that achieving real impact means changing complex and dynamic systems. Yet, too much work happens in isolation. While funders might like to see more collaboration among their grantees, the reality is that too many nonprofits lack the opportunity and resources to engage in collective work. In the process of securing sufficient funding, mapping out sustainability plans, cultivating a “brand” and seeking recognition, the necessary work of collaboration often goes to the wayside.

If funders want to help spur collective action among the organizations they support then the first step is to examine how existing grantmaking processes exacerbate the prevailing “go it alone” mindset. The next step is to explore how, as a funder, you can help grantees build the skills, mindset and capacity to enable organizations to collaborate.

What are the capacities that can spark collaboration and that grantmaker should support? A handful from GEO’s publication include the following (please add others!):

Strong Leadership and an open mindset: Laying the groundwork to build and sustain collective action not only takes time and hard work, but also takes vigilance. In the networked organizations that GEO observed, staff and leadership of these organizations recognize that they are part of an ecosystem that is working toward a shared mission, so they actively try to understand, build and sustain connections within it.

Ability to share power and responsibility: Working effectively in partnership takes humility and willingness to trade control and power for a higher level of impact. As a result, participants actively practice the hard work of looking beyond the specific objectives of their own organizations toward bigger mission goals.

Adaptability and flexibility: Inevitably, cross-sector partnerships evolve, new partners bring new perspectives, priorities change and the external environment may shift. As a result, partners in a collaborative effort need to exercise a high level of “adaptive capacity,” defined by TCC Group as “the ability to monitor, assess, respond to, and stimulate internal and external changes.”

Strong connectivity and relationship building: Strong relationships are the bedrock of partnership. Organizations that are externally focused support their staff to reach out to others, even when their priorities or work may differ.

So, how can grantmakers help cultivate these capacities in the nonprofits they support? These capacities don’t come easily when simply surviving and meeting the needs of communities is the day-to-day priority. However, here are several approaches grantmakers can consider:

Help make connections, don’t force them: The relationships that make up the fabric of any collective impact effort work best when they evolve on their own — not by force. While a grantmaker’s vantage point may enable them to see across efforts and see areas of alignment, how they cultivate the connections they seek to make is critical. Rather than putting nonprofits in an uncomfortable position where they may feel forced to collaborate, a better approach is to play a connecting and convening role but to leave the nonprofits in the driver’s seat when it comes to exploring common interests and possible collaborative activities.

Offer core support and flexible, long-term funding to grantees: Laying the groundwork for collective action cannot be accounted for in a one-year program budget and it requires support that is flexible so that collaborative efforts are more nimble and adaptive. By providing steady “core” funding to organizations participating in aligned work, funders can also reduce competition among collaborative members for year-to-year project dollars and help speed the process of trust building.

Provide necessary resources to support and enable collaboration: Grantmakers can provide critical support for the logistics and operations of partnerships. Grantmakers can also bring multiple forms of capital to the work, such as bringing other funders to the table, securing media coverage for the work, convening government and business partners, and more. In some cases, funders also can lend intellectual and technical support and expertise to nonprofit collaboratives through facilitation, research and more.

Many nonprofits are tired of funders telling them they need to work together without providing any real incentives to do so. For funders of collective impact, giving grantees the right kind of support is critical to the survival of any effort. Grantmakers have an opportunity to propel the work of a collective forward by reexamining their own internal processes, understanding the capacities that nonprofits need to thrive in a collaboration and to direct the right resources to bolstering these capacities.

What do you think? Share your thoughts and comments below.

Overcoming Pitfalls for Funders Also Playing the Backbone Role

Posted Friday, July 24, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Funders often wear many hats in collective impact efforts, from convening partners to funding the infrastructure needed to guide cross-sector partnerships. One role that funders might also find themselves playing – either intentionally or sometimes by default – is that of backbone support for a collective impact effort.

How to prioritize and support backbone functions has emerged as a priority for many funders. For example, the topic of funder/backbone relationships was a prominent theme at the Collective Impact Funder Convening in New Orleans in May (see the video of the May 5th plenary session on navigating the funder/backbone relationship). In the post-meeting survey, several funder attendees recommended additional dialogue among their peers on how the funder/backbone relationship plays out when funders are actually playing the backbone role.

Based on this feedback, the Collective Impact Forum organized a small group discussion with the Collective Impact Funder Community of Practice (COP), a group of funders engaging in a year-long learning community with their peers about investing in collective impact. We asked participants to reflect on when and how funders are playing the backbone role, and what pitfalls to avoid when taking on this responsibility. Below are some notable questions and key themes that emerged from this small group discussion:

What are the primary reasons why some funders play the backbone role?

Many funders play the backbone role because no one else in the community has the capacity to facilitate planning meetings, provide communications support, and/or analyze data across partners in a collective impact effort. Some funders said they don’t view it as a permanent solution for a funder to also be the backbone.

Ideally, a neutral organization (or multiple organizations) would take on the backbone functions over time. Another funder, however, said that the community encouraged them to own the backbone responsibilities because they have the assets, relationships, and expertise to provide backbone support.

What are the greatest challenges for those wearing both funder and backbone hats?

One private foundation leader said during our COP small group call that their greatest concern in playing the backbone role is that “people will become dependent on us driving it.” Other concerns focused on neutrality and accountability for funders as backbones.

As one community foundation leader noted, “we try to be neutral (as a funder and backbone simultaneously), but when we drive something it sets the expectation that the engagement (of others in the community) comes with a potential for funding. Also, when being a funder and backbone at the same time, it’s hard to hold ourselves accountable as a backbone.”

Given these concerns, many participants said it was important to be upfront about these challenges and develop a plan for sharing responsibility with others in the community over time.

How do you navigate the power dynamics when playing both roles?

Funders may need to play the backbone role in the short-term given local context and capacity needs, but there are real tensions that exist if funders play that role over the long term.

One potential work-around is to “house” the backbone function within a funder’s office to take advantage of some back-end capacities (e.g., rent, IT, office supplies), but ensure that backbone staff are separate from the grantmaking staff. Regardless of where the backbone function resides, it is important to openly identify areas of tensions and power differential between funders and others involved in a collective impact effort.

How do you transition in and out of the backbone role?

One private foundation leader said his organization has had to consciously identify what backbone roles others can play. As we see in many communities, backbone functions are diverse and don’t necessarily have to be done by the same person or even by one organization alone. While it can create confusion to distribute backbone functions across multiple organizations, some funders have found success in divesting some of the backbone roles in their communities early on and identifying others who can step up as advocates for collective impact. As one funder COP participant noted, “We need to let others feel ownership and shine.”

Another funder is considering the potential of bringing in a third party entity who has a neutral stake in the community to facilitate meetings and ensure that this one foundation isn’t solely pushing the issue. Other communities have taken a request for proposals (RFP) approach to choosing the backbone. Once there is real buy-in and momentum in a community, funders noted that an RFP could be a promising way to identify one or more organizations to play that important backbone infrastructure role.

What has been your experience with funders playing the backbone role? What are the greatest pitfalls that you have seen, and what are ways of addressing those hurdles? Please share with us your thoughts in the comments.

When and How to Engage the Private Sector in Collective Impact

Posted Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at 9:21 pm

Campbell Soup Company is implementing a 10-year, $10 million initiative to significantly reduce childhood obesity and hunger in the city of Camden, NJ, through its Campbell Healthy Communities program. (Video profile) Building on its work in Camden, Campbell Soup Company is also expanding the Healthy Communities program to other cities such as Norwalk, CT, Napoleon, OH, and Everett, WA, where the company has a business presence.

The Collective Impact Forum sat down with Kim Fortunato, Director of Campbell Healthy Communities program, to discuss the impetus for this collective impact initiative and what lessons the company has learned. This conversation also builds on the breakout session that Fortunato moderated, entitled “When and How to Engage the Private Sector in Collective Impact,” during the Collective Impact Convening in May 2015 in New Orleans. (Download session discussion slides)

CI Forum: What has motivated Campbell Soup Company to play a leadership role through its Healthy Communities Program?

Kim: Campbell has a long-standing commitment to social responsibility, to help deliver both sustainability and business results. We believe that giving back to the communities where we live and work is part of our DNA. We are in year four of the Healthy Communities program in Camden, and we certainly know that we can’t do this alone.

Campbell Soup Company’s leadership was really thoughtful in this long-term view of a 10-year commitment. That’s really important, especially for other private sector funders to hear. If you’re looking at any complex social issue, it might take 10+ years. Our company’s leadership committed a significant amount of resources, bringing on a dedicated full-time person, and identifying a pretty audacious goal – reducing childhood obesity and hunger in Camden by 50% in 10 years.

How have you made the case to your Campbell Soup colleagues about the importance of collective impact?

Our Heathy Communities program is very aligned with our business strategy. One of our business strategies focuses on health and well-being. Campbell wants to be a leader in that healthy foods space. We have demonstrated that in many ways through the Healthy Communities program. We are foundational to the business strategy, and we’re also foundational to our purpose: Real food that matters for life’s moments.

If Campbell products are the company’s life-blood, then we (the Healthy Communities program) are the soul. It’s what we are as a 145 year old company. This is nothing new; we’ve just created a signature program. It’s fundamental to the “why” for this company.

When I talk about the collective impact methodology internally to my business colleagues, inevitably someone comes up to me from a business unit and says, “What you’re describing (collective impact) is change management.” One of our directors who does training in marketing wanted me to speak to our marketers. This colleague told me, “It’s how we train our marketers to not think linearly, and how we bring together a diversity of partners to market our goods.” If you describe the process beyond using the words collective impact, it makes perfect sense to people in business.

How have you ensured buy-in and engagement more broadly in the community?

Camden has many challenges and is yearning for leadership across sectors, even from the philanthropic community. At the grass-tops level, it was very easy to play a leadership role because there’s only a few anchor institutions. I went out and did 90 days of meet and greet with everyone you could imagine. It was important to do that where trust needed to be built.

Specific to our food access strategy, in the first 6 months, we convened a handful of funders who were putting money into Camden around food access issues. As you often see with reactive philanthropy, funders were investing money where they thought there was a need, but without much evidence. I convened 12-15 funders of various private foundations and public sector agencies, and we had a food access expert come to speak to our group. We agreed to develop a collective strategy to address the issues of our food system and invest purposefully and aligned with the strategies.

We don’t talk too much about funding collectively, but I think we need to walk the walk. It’s incumbent upon me to encourage my organization and my funder colleagues to work that way too. That’s intentional in the strategy for me in growing our work.

How can other sectors (e.g., public, nonprofit, philanthropy) educate and engage the private sector in collective impact?

Invite us to the table. We’re not just a funder. We bring so many assets, and many of them are assets that nonprofits are lacking (e.g., marketing, strategic planning). We sometimes don’t know how to get to that table. Many corporate funders are removed. The engagement piece is what we have to highlight. This is why the Social Venture Partners model (Note for readers: Fortunato co-founded SVP-DE) is powerful because it’s premised on engaged giving. If you want to be more engaged in your giving, the collective impact framework affords that in spades.

Another premise to understand: if you’re a funder and you need your name on something, collective impact isn’t really going to work for you. I’m always very clear about that for us and our partners. It may be a bit bigger barrier for corporate funders if they want a named program. The food industry is looking at the Healthy Communities model, and interested in doing things together. Let’s do something bigger together, which wouldn’t be branded. I’m hopeful there is movement away from branding/naming and toward finding a common agenda.

To what extent can collective impact be held up as a framework to the private sector that enables more than just collaboration? Why or why not?

Collective impact is so much more than collaboration. I tend not to talk about collaboration, distinguishing collaboration and collective impact. The mindset is really different. We all talk about collaborating. We as funders talk about how we want grantees to demonstrate collaboration, or we won’t fund you. I don’t agree with that. It has to be much more intentional than collaboration. It is a dedication to the philosophy of collective work, commitment to the common agenda, and willingness to leave your ego at the door.  

Obviously there are some issues, and we’ve run into them. In the opening plenary in New Orleans (at the May 2015 Collective Impact Convening), someone said the funder should never be the backbone. I think about that every day. If we were not the backbone for this work in Camden, I am not sure the work would be happening. I do believe the backbone ultimately must live in a community-based organization, but it will take time to build that capacity.  Clearly, the barriers are leadership. It’s the same barriers to everything: leadership, capacity, and infrastructure. When the power balance becomes an issue, you have barriers.

I’ve said before in our community, I don’t have the answers. I introduce collective impact at the beginning of our meetings, every time. We start our meetings with lessons learned about collective impact. I’m your partner, and I want you to hold me accountable just like I hold you accountable. Now that we’re several years into the work, it’s incumbent upon me to think about a larger, sustainable effort where a community-based organization plays the backbone role.

Many of the topics we’ve discussed today in this Q&A were addressed in the breakout session you moderated at the Collective Impact Convening in New Orleans in May 2015, entitled “When and How to Engage the Private Sector in Collective Impact.” Are there any other notable takeaways from that conversation in New Orleans?

I have a lot of takeaways from that meeting. It was such a great learning opportunity for me, the panelists, and the participants. Anybody in that room could have been moderating or speaking on the panel. There was so much expertise at the conference. I liked the opportunity to share.

One big takeaway: the culture clash between the nonprofit sector and the business sector. In business, we work in 30 or 60 minute increments. We have an agenda. We’re not just there to chat and hangout. On the flip side, nonprofits want to build relationships, go deep on issues, and maybe not be as rigid as the business sector is. You must pay attention to that culture clash.

Somebody also said in the meeting that we need to create a glossary of terms so that businesses and nonprofits understand each other. We don’t spend enough time incorporating each other’s voices. If we’re working across a diverse set of stakeholders, we need to be more mindful of incorporating one another’s voice.

Another lesson: as I said before, having the nonprofit community recognize that business can do so much more than write a check. It’s incumbent upon the nonprofit community to ask for that. The nonprofit sector often doesn’t ask, and the business sector isn’t thinking in those terms.

Also, we talked about the importance of the mindset shift required to embrace collective impact. Before getting into the five conditions of collective impact, you should talk about your philosophy and ethos. If that common understanding of values and ethos isn’t there, that’s a critical conversation you need to have. Establishing that buy-in is fundamental to success. We’ve struggled at times with that buy-in in Camden. Sometimes there’s challenging power dynamics with various partners. It goes back to the importance of ethos.

During the breakout session in New Orleans, you asked for attendees to provide feedback on a draft handout that included some collective impact lessons learned, developed by session panelist Kori Reed, Vice President of the ConAgra Foods Foundation.

We have included the latest version of those lessons learned here with suggestions incorporated from the meeting. What were some of the most important pieces of feedback for you from that the group discussion about engaging the private sector in collective impact?

I heard a lot of discussion about how nonprofits should engage the business sector in collective impact. Not much of that was surprising, but it was a consistent theme among backbone leaders and other nonprofit leaders in the room. I don’t know how you break down that wall altogether. We (the business community) need to be asked. People like to be asked to do something. We don’t necessarily know how to get involved.

I’m working with one of our brands in Washington state. There’s a 2020 health goal in Snohomish County, Washington. They have a framework in place, and they launch in July 2015. It’s a collective impact framework, and very thoughtfully done. One of Campbell Soup’s brands, Stockpot, is going to be part of the larger collective. We came into the collective very fortuitously; it was not an obvious relationship. There’s a gap there that all sectors need to aware of and think about how to better connect with each other. It’s changing the narrative around philanthropy.

To me, collective impact isn’t philanthropy. I tell people that I do impact investing for social change for the company. If we can change the narrative of “I have a big checkbook and I write a check to ‘help’ people,” to “let’s look at complex issues with a diverse group of leaders and figure out how to make meaningful change,” it makes the conversation more inclusive.

One final thought: we need to keep guardrails on what we’re doing. So many people say they’re doing collective impact. A lot of people want to be doing collective impact, but people don’t understand what it is and how difficult it is, particularly in terms of managing so many different relationships. This is a much harder way to do social change, but I can’t imagine another way to do it. We’ve created cross-sector partnerships that never existed before. The most successful part of our program so far is the framework and our approach. The partners are working together, and we’ve leveraged funds. But we still have a long way to go to significantly move the needle on childhood obesity and hunger in our community.

Thank you for your sharing your perspective with us today.

Related Post: 10 Lessons Learned from Engaging the Business Community in Collective Impact

10 Lessons Learned from Engaging the Business Community in Collective Impact

Posted Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at 8:49 pm

Below are some lessons learned from private sector leaders and other community leaders who are actively engaged in collective impact. These lessons were drafted by Kori Reed, Vice President of the ConAgra Foods Foundation, in advance of the breakout session that Campbell Soup Company’s Kim Fortunato moderated with Reed and other leaders on the topic of, “When and How to Engage the Private Sector in Collective Impact” during the Collective Impact Convening in May 2015 in New Orleans.

Attendees at this breakout session provided real-time feedback/revisions to this lessons learned document. Their consolidated feedback is incorporated in this post:

1- Outside Language is Collective Impact – Inside is Project Management

Inside companies, we are maniacal problem solvers. Every day we come to the office, address gaps in performance and measure results. We have to work together – supply chain, finance, marketing, etc – to drive large scale effectiveness, efficiency and change. We often have project management professionals who are experts in process mapping, project goals, meeting accountability and more. We have the skills, but no experience applying those toward community issues.

Seek advice from inside experts on process and systems change. (For an example of project management resources, see ConAgra Food’s Community Collaboration Playbook and Toolkit).

2- Collaboration is not natural for any of us, and it’s even more challenging in the community

Large scale systems change requires collaboration, working together toward the same end goal. It is easier said than done and requires systems leadership.

Inside corporations, we often hire consultants who build toolkits and templates for stakeholder alignment, check-in meetings and more. The difference is that in the community, there is no CEO telling people something has to be done or the job depends on it. In the community, alignment can take more vision and people skills to get people moving in the same direction. Stakeholder alignment tools can be very helpful to get on the same page.

It’s critical to be explicit upfront on the importance of community ownership and co-design.

3- Year 1 of a collective impact initiative is like Year 1 of an entrepreneurial business venture:

The vision for success may be there in year one, but there are still a lot of kinks in the machine to work through. Even if you apply the right evidence-based research, and have the best plan on paper, year 1 in a startup business can be a financial loss from an investment standpoint.

The key is to have a longer-term view, be agile as possible and adjust from “failing forward” moments. Expect a little chaos in the project and build in fixes and manage expectations. For a funder, it may require recording more outputs or unintended consequences as the measured outcome won’t be there yet.

Inviting business to the table from the beginning is key, but it’s important to find the right people from business and the community and explain the messiness of the collective impact process. Business people are used to more linear processes, thus the need to over-communicate and the need to find people in the business so that their needs and interests match the collective impact approach. Also, look for quick wins for companies to keep them engaged, and explain the reason for a longer view.

4- Getting the right people on the right bus is not a simple task

Being part of a team goal can take some adjustment and leaders may need to flex their style even more. Part of the process is learning what dynamics are most effective and then being willing to move people when the style or ambition is impeding the success of the project. This is true in a company where performance is governed by an HR process. In the community, it is about keeping a keen ear to the ground, listening, observing and making decisions when necessary – not waiting too long to manage change.

Be mindful of having frank conversations about different values of those who are contributing to a collective impact effort. Also, remember the importance of building relationships. It’s important to get to know each other on a personal level to understand each other’s motivations and added-value. True partnerships are based on shared values and mutual interests that help people get through turbulent moments.

5- People who need people CAN be the luckiest people but not always

Collective impact is process work that is highly dependent on people, and people dynamics can get in the way.

Assuming positive intent, we all have agendas that sometimes don’t align. This is why it is key to ensure the project manager or “backbone” is housed in a neutral place and not a vested partner in the process. This also is why, from the start, the project plan should build in an escalation process even before the first conflict hits – because it will.

It’s important that the backbone plays a non-biased project management role. Selection is really important, and people don’t always remember that backbones need to be neutral.

6- People and the power dynamic of the funder can require a buffer

Whether we like it or not, we recognize the funder bias. A wise mentor said that if a grantee says a funder looks nice and the funder believes it, the funder is in trouble. It’s a bit like the Emperor’s new clothes; both are in trouble if a grantee says the funder is always right and the funder believes it.

In this case the backbone or another third party consultant can offer a neutral, safe place for all to confide concerns, even if it is the funder that is causing the problem. A non-biased party who is willing to keep a funder in check is a valuable part of neutralizing the power dynamic.

Collective impact only works if all are equal partners at the table.

7- Re-up is part of the Analyze-Plan-Do-Check plan:

Especially when partners work together for more than one year, build in a regular check in process on a regular – quarterly, at least – basis and a chance for a partner to re-up or recommit or back out of the process. Things can change over the course of a year. Any corporate project manager knows that there are factors outside and inside their control that can change the trajectory of a plan, from a change in leadership to a natural disaster. Have people commit to at least a year, but then at the year point, check in to see if this is still part of the organization’s overall plan.

8- Over communicate, even though there is no such thing as over communicating

Once a funder shifts from a traditional grant to a collective impact investment, the communication is ongoing, not just a mid-year and a year-end grant report. It is vital to make sure all partners are clear what they signed up for, before even accepting the first grant.

If indeed things change, go back to point 7 and check in with the team. Inside company walls, we also can equate collective impact to change management. It is a shift in the way we work together and the basis of change management is communication, role clarity, managing expectations, etc. Recognize that everyone is coming in from different places.

You need to be intentional about onboarding processes to get everyone to a level playing field.

9- Be intentional about equity and diversity that spans income, race, thought process and more

While economic, health, and education issues impact all races, unfortunately people of color – African American and Latino– are disproportionately represented in marginalized/vulnerable populations. All people deserve dignity which means we are all part of the process and have a seat at the table when it comes to finding solutions. It is in our collective interest to make every effort to ensure we include diverse views. At minimum, we can make an effort to do focus groups in communities to find out what works and how to expand those ideas.

10- Leadership is not always easy, and sometimes lonely

Leadership doesn’t mean doing it all by yourself, but because you are out in front of an initiative, setting a vision, building the infrastructure, and taking risks, it can be a lonely one.

From a funder lens, the goal is to get an initiative from a funded project to a sustainable initiative. In order to do this, the community will need to take ownership and engagement for continued success. A winning initiative is one that keeps going, long after the funding you initially invested. With that end-state in mind, that takes priority setting, ownership, decisiveness and risk.

Other notable takeaways from meeting attendees who reacted to these lessons learned included:

  • Set some common goals upfront with the collaborative and be clear on the ROI for different partners (ROI will be different for different sectors). Inside corporations, we often speak “top and bottom line” and “efficiency and effectiveness.” If you can show that a staff or capacity grant will have a more efficient pay off over time than a program investment, you might be able to secure those overhead funds.
  • Recognize that systems outside of collective impact could undermine or work against the initiative (e.g., grant overhead requirements) or timing. Most corporations work on a quarterly or annual basis. A 12-year trajectory for change/outcome, or longer, is VERY different for a corporation. How can you break down a longer term goal into bite size pieces so that the company feels welcome to join vs. overwhelmed?
  • Need a glossary of terms: we have a different language across the sectors.
  • Be thoughtful about how to engage businesses. For example, you need to make a business case. Approach corporations with the facts, for example the statistics around how diverse the workforce will be in 20 years. Also, looking at corporations as cash cows is not enough. Community leaders need to approach corporations with an open mind to the other assets that corporations may have (e.g., skills-based volunteering, lending corporate consultants, changing job descriptions and requirements to enable equitable job access, etc.). Moreover, companies have a role in helping community members understand all these assets and how to access them. Lastly, there can be dissonance if the company’s products contribute to the problem. Partners at the collective impact table need to recognize that head on.

What do you think? What lessons have you learned from working with the private sector that helped forward your collective impact work? Share with us your recommendations in the comments!