Stanford Social Innovation Review : Informing and inspiring leaders of social change


Nonprofit Management

Collective Impact

Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations.

See also:

"Roundtable on Collective Impact"

"Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work"

"Understanding the Value of Backbone Organizations in Collective Impact"

"Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity"

The scale and complexity of the U.S. public education system has thwarted attempted reforms for decades. Major funders, such as the Annenberg Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trusts have abandoned many of their efforts in frustration after acknowledging their lack of progress. Once the global leader—after World War II the United States had the highest high school graduation rate in the world—the country now ranks 18th among the top 24 industrialized nations, with more than 1 million secondary school students dropping out every year. The heroic efforts of countless teachers, administrators, and nonprofits, together with billions of dollars in charitable contributions, may have led to important improvements in individual schools and classrooms, yet system-wide progress has seemed virtually unobtainable.

Against these daunting odds, a remarkable exception seems to be emerging in Cincinnati. Strive, a nonprofit subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, has brought together local leaders to tackle the student achievement crisis and improve education throughout greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. In the four years since the group was launched, Strive partners have improved student success in dozens of key areas across three large public school districts. Despite the recession and budget cuts, 34 of the 53 success indicators that Strive tracks have shown positive trends, including high school graduation rates, fourth-grade reading and math scores, and the number of preschool children prepared for kindergarten.

Why has Strive made progress when so many other efforts have failed? It is because a core group of community leaders decided to abandon their individual agendas in favor of a collective approach to improving student achievement. More than 300 leaders of local organizations agreed to participate, including the heads of influential private and corporate foundations, city government officials, school district representatives, the presidents of eight universities and community colleges, and the executive directors of hundreds of education-related nonprofit and advocacy groups.

These leaders realized that fixing one point on the educational continuum—such as better after-school programs—wouldn’t make much difference unless all parts of the continuum improved at the same time. No single organization, however innovative or powerful, could accomplish this alone. Instead, their ambitious mission became to coordinate improvements at every stage of a young person’s life, from “cradle to career.”

Strive didn’t try to create a new educational program or attempt to convince donors to spend more money. Instead, through a carefully structured process, Strive focused the entire educational community on a single set of goals, measured in the same way. Participating organizations are grouped into 15 different Student Success Networks (SSNs) by type of activity, such as early childhood education or tutoring. Each SSN has been meeting with coaches and facilitators for two hours every two weeks for the past three years, developing shared performance indicators, discussing their progress, and most important, learning from each other and aligning their efforts to support each other.

Strive, both the organization and the process it helps facilitate, is an example of collective impact, the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem. Collaboration is nothing new. The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of joint efforts. But collective impact initiatives are distinctly different. Unlike most collaborations, 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.

Although rare, other successful examples of collective impact are addressing social issues that, like education, require many different players to change their behavior in order to solve a complex problem. In 1993, Marjorie Mayfield Jackson helped found the Elizabeth River Project with a mission of cleaning up the Elizabeth River in southeastern Virginia, which for decades had been a dumping ground for industrial waste. They engaged more than 100 stakeholders, including the city governments of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach, Va., the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Navy, and dozens of local businesses, schools, community groups, environmental organizations, and universities, in developing an 18-point plan to restore the watershed. Fifteen years later, more than 1,000 acres of watershed land have been conserved or restored, pollution has been reduced by more than 215 million pounds, concentrations of the most severe carcinogen have been cut sixfold, and water quality has significantly improved. Much remains to be done before the river is fully restored, but already 27 species of fish and oysters are thriving in the restored wetlands, and bald eagles have returned to nest on the shores.

Or consider Shape up Somerville, a citywide effort to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in elementary school children in Somerville, Mass. Led by Christina Economos, an associate professor at Tufts University’s Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, the program engaged government officials, educators, businesses, nonprofits, and citizens in collectively defining wellness and weight gain prevention practices. Schools agreed to offer healthier foods, teach nutrition, and promote physical activity. Local restaurants received a certification if they served low-fat, high nutritional food. The city organized a farmers’ market and provided healthy lifestyle incentives such as reduced-price gym memberships for city employees. Even sidewalks were modified and crosswalks repainted to encourage more children to walk to school. The result was a statistically significant decrease in body mass index among the community’s young children between 2002 and 2005.

Even companies are beginning to explore collective impact to tackle social problems. Mars, a manufacturer of chocolate brands such as M&M’s, Snickers, and Dove, is working with NGOs, local governments, and even direct competitors to improve the lives of more than 500,000 impoverished cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire, where Mars sources a large portion of its cocoa. Research suggests that better farming practices and improved plant stocks could triple the yield per hectare, dramatically increasing farmer incomes and improving the sustainability of Mars’s supply chain. To accomplish this, Mars must enlist the coordinated efforts of multiple organizations: the Cote d’Ivoire government needs to provide more agricultural extension workers, the World Bank needs to finance new roads, and bilateral donors need to support NGOs in improving health care, nutrition, and education in cocoa growing communities. And Mars must find ways to work with its direct competitors on pre-competitive issues to reach farmers outside its supply chain.

These varied examples all have a common theme: that large-scale social change comes from better cross-sector coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations. Evidence of the effectiveness of this approach is still limited, but these examples suggest that substantially greater progress could be made in alleviating many of our most serious and complex social problems if nonprofits, governments, businesses, and the public were brought together around a common agenda to create collective impact. It doesn’t happen often, not because it is impossible, but because it is so rarely attempted. Funders and nonprofits alike overlook the potential for collective impact because they are used to focusing on independent action as the primary vehicle for social change.


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.

In short, the nonprofit sector most frequently operates using an approach that we call isolated impact. It is an approach oriented toward finding and funding a solution embodied within a single organization, combined with the hope that the most effective organizations will grow or replicate to extend their impact more widely. Funders search for more effective interventions as if there were a cure for failing schools that only needs to be discovered, in the way that medical cures are discovered in laboratories. As a result of this process, nearly 1.4 million nonprofits 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. Recent trends have only reinforced this perspective. The growing interest in venture philanthropy and social entrepreneurship, for example, has greatly benefited the social sector by identifying and accelerating the growth of many high-performing nonprofits, yet it has also accentuated an emphasis on scaling up a few select organizations as the key to social progress.

Despite the dominance of this approach, there is scant evidence that isolated initiatives are the best way to solve many social problems in today’s complex and interdependent world. No single organization is responsible for any major social problem, nor can any single organization cure it. In the field of education, even the most highly respected nonprofits—such as the Harlem Children’s Zone, Teach for America, and the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP)—have taken decades to reach tens of thousands of children, a remarkable achievement that deserves praise, but one that is three orders of magnitude short of the tens of millions of U.S. children that need help.

The problem with relying on the isolated impact of individual organizations is further compounded by the isolation of the nonprofit sector. Social problems arise from the interplay of governmental and commercial activities, not only from the behavior of social sector organizations. As a result, complex problems can be solved only by cross-sector coalitions that engage those outside the nonprofit sector.

We don’t want to imply that all social problems require collective impact. In fact, some problems are best solved by individual organizations. In “Leading Boldly,” an article we wrote with Ron Heifetz for the winter 2004 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, we described the difference between technical problems and adaptive problems. Some social problems are technical in that the problem is well defined, the answer is known in advance, and one or a few organizations have the ability to implement the solution. Examples include funding college scholarships, building a hospital, or installing inventory controls in a food bank. Adaptive problems, by contrast, are complex, the answer is not known, and even if it were, no single entity has the resources or authority to bring about the necessary change. Reforming public education, restoring wetland environments, and improving community health are all adaptive problems. In these cases, reaching an effective solution requires learning by the stakeholders involved in the problem, who must then change their own behavior in order to create a solution.

Shifting from isolated impact to collective impact is not merely a matter of encouraging more collaboration or public-private partnerships. It requires a systemic approach to social impact that focuses on the relationships between organizations and the progress toward shared objectives. And it requires the creation of a new set of nonprofit management organizations that have the skills and resources to assemble and coordinate the specific elements necessary for collective action to succeed.


Our research shows that 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 backbone support organizations.

Common Agenda Collective impact requires all participants to have a shared vision for change, one that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions. Take a close look at any group of funders and nonprofits that believe they are working on the same social issue, and you quickly find that it is often not the same issue at all. Each organization often has a slightly different definition of the problem and the ultimate goal. These differences are easily ignored when organizations work independently on isolated initiatives, yet these differences splinter the efforts and undermine the impact of the field as a whole. Collective impact requires that these differences be discussed and resolved. Every participant need not agree with every other participant on all dimensions of the problem. In fact, disagreements continue to divide participants in all of our examples of collective impact. All participants must agree, however, on the primary goals for the collective impact initiative as a whole. The Elizabeth River Project, for example, had to find common ground among the different objectives of corporations, governments, community groups, and local citizens in order to establish workable cross-sector initiatives.

Funders can play an important role in getting organizations to act in concert. In the case of Strive, rather than fueling hundreds of strategies and nonprofits, many funders have aligned to support Strive’s central goals. The Greater Cincinnati Foundation realigned its education goals to be more compatible with Strive, adopting Strive’s annual report card as the foundation’s own measures for progress in education. Every time an organization applied to Duke Energy for a grant, Duke asked, “Are you part of the [Strive] network?” And when a new funder, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, expressed interest in education, they were encouraged by virtually every major education leader in Cincinnati to join Strive if they wanted to have an impact in local education.1

Shared Measurement Systems Developing a shared measurement system is essential to collective impact. Agreement on a common agenda is illusory without agreement on the ways success will be measured and reported. Collecting data and measuring results consistently on a short list of indicators at the community level and across all participating organizations not only ensures that all efforts remain aligned, it also enables the participants to hold each other accountable and learn from each other’s successes and failures.

It may seem impossible to evaluate hundreds of different organizations on the same set of measures. Yet recent advances in Web-based technologies have enabled common systems for reporting performance and measuring outcomes. These systems increase efficiency and reduce cost. They can also improve the quality and credibility of the data collected, increase effectiveness by enabling grantees to learn from each other’s performance, and document the progress of the field as a whole.2

All of the preschool programs in Strive, for example, have agreed to measure their results on the same criteria and use only evidence-based decision making. Each type of activity requires a different set of measures, but all organizations engaged in the same type of activity report on the same measures. Looking at results across multiple organizations enables the participants to spot patterns, find solutions, and implement them rapidly. The preschool programs discovered that children regress during the summer break before kindergarten. By launching an innovative “summer bridge” session, a technique more often used in middle school, and implementing it simultaneously in all preschool programs, they increased the average kindergarten readiness scores throughout the region by an average of 10 percent in a single year.3

Mutually Reinforcing Activities Collective impact initiatives depend on a diverse group of stakeholders working together, not by requiring that all participants do the same thing, but by encouraging each participant to undertake the specific set of activities at which it excels in a way that supports and is coordinated with the actions of others.

The power of collective action comes not from the sheer number of participants or the uniformity of their efforts, but from the coordination of their differentiated activities through a mutually reinforcing plan of action. Each stakeholder’s efforts must fit into an overarching plan if their combined efforts are to succeed. The multiple causes of social problems, and the components of their solutions, are interdependent. They cannot be addressed by uncoordinated actions among isolated organizations.

All participants in the Elizabeth River Project, for example, agreed on the 18-point watershed restoration plan, but each is playing a different role based on its particular capabilities. One group of organizations works on creating grassroots support and engagement among citizens, a second provides peer review and recruitment for industrial participants who voluntarily reduce pollution, and a third coordinates and reviews scientific research.

The 15 SSNs in Strive each undertake different types of activities at different stages of the educational continuum. Strive does not prescribe what practices each of the 300 participating organizations should pursue. Each organization and network is free to chart its own course consistent with the common agenda, and informed by the shared measurement of results.

Continuous Communication Developing trust among nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies is a monumental challenge. Participants need several years of regular meetings to build up enough experience with each other to recognize and appreciate the common motivation behind their different efforts. They need time to see that their own interests will be treated fairly, and that decisions will be made on the basis of objective evidence and the best possible solution to the problem, not to favor the priorities of one organization over another.

Even the process of creating a common vocabulary takes time, and it is an essential prerequisite to developing shared measurement systems. All the collective impact initiatives we have studied held monthly or even biweekly in-person meetings among the organizations’ CEO-level leaders. Skipping meetings or sending lower-level delegates was not acceptable. Most of the meetings were supported by external facilitators and followed a structured agenda.

The Strive networks, for example, have been meeting regularly for more than three years. Communication happens between meetings too: Strive uses Web-based tools, such as Google Groups, to keep communication flowing among and within the networks. At first, many of the leaders showed up because they hoped that their participation would bring their organizations additional funding, but they soon learned that was not the meetings’ purpose. What they discovered instead were the rewards of learning and solving problems together with others who shared their same deep knowledge and passion about the issue.

Backbone Support Organizations Creating and managing collective impact requires a separate organization and staff with a very specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative. Coordination takes time, and none of the participating organizations has any to spare. The expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons why it fails.

The backbone organization requires a 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. Strive has simplified the initial staffing requirements for a backbone organization to three roles: project manager, data manager, and facilitator.

Collective impact also requires a highly structured process that leads to effective decision making. In the case of Strive, staff worked with General Electric (GE) to adapt for the social sector the Six Sigma process that GE uses for its own continuous quality improvement. The Strive Six Sigma process includes training, tools, and resources that each SSN uses to define its common agenda, shared measures, and plan of action, supported by Strive facilitators to guide the process.

In the best of circumstances, these backbone organizations embody the principles of adaptive leadership: the ability to focus people’s attention and create a sense of urgency, the skill to apply pressure to stakeholders without overwhelming them, the competence to frame issues in a way that presents opportunities as well as difficulties, and the strength to mediate conflict among stakeholders.


Creating a successful collective impact initiative requires a significant financial investment: the time participating organizations must dedicate to the work, the development and monitoring of shared measurement systems, and the staff of the backbone organization needed to lead and support the initiative’s ongoing work.

As successful as Strive has been, it has struggled to raise money, confronting funders’ reluctance to pay for infrastructure and preference for short-term solutions. Collective impact requires instead that funders support a long-term process of social change without identifying any particular solution in advance. They must be willing to let grantees steer the work and have the patience to stay with an initiative for years, recognizing that social change can come from the gradual improvement of an entire system over time, not just from a single breakthrough by an individual organization.

This requires a fundamental change in how funders see their role, from funding organizations to leading a long-term process of social change. It is no longer enough to fund an innovative solution created by a single nonprofit or to build that organization’s capacity. Instead, funders must help create and sustain the collective processes, measurement reporting systems, and community leadership that enable cross-sector coalitions to arise and thrive.

This is a shift that we foreshadowed in both “Leading Boldly” and our more recent article, “Catalytic Philanthropy,” in the fall 2009 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In the former, we suggested that the most powerful role for funders to play in addressing adaptive problems is to focus attention on the issue and help to create a process that mobilizes the organizations involved to find a solution themselves. In “Catalytic Philanthropy,” we wrote: “Mobilizing and coordinating stakeholders is far messier and slower work than funding a compelling grant request from a single organization. Systemic change, however, ultimately depends on a sustained campaign to increase the capacity and coordination of an entire field.” We recommended that funders who want to create large-scale change follow four practices: take responsibility for assembling the elements of a solution; create a movement for change; include solutions from outside the nonprofit sector; and use actionable knowledge to influence behavior and improve performance.

These same four principles are embodied in collective impact initiatives. The organizers of Strive abandoned the conventional approach of funding specific programs at education nonprofits and took responsibility for advancing education reform themselves. They built a movement, engaging hundreds of organizations in a drive toward shared goals. They used tools outside the nonprofit sector, adapting GE’s Six Sigma planning process for the social sector. And through the community report card and the biweekly meetings of the SSNs they created actionable knowledge that motivated the community and improved performance among the participants.

Funding collective impact initiatives costs money, but it can be a highly leveraged investment. A backbone organization with a modest annual budget can support a collective impact initiative of several hundred organizations, magnifying the impact of millions or even billions of dollars in existing funding. Strive, for example, has a $1.5 million annual budget but is coordinating the efforts and increasing the effectiveness of organizations with combined budgets of $7 billion. The social sector, however, has not yet changed its funding practices to enable the shift to collective impact. Until funders are willing to embrace this new approach and invest sufficient resources in the necessary facilitation, coordination, and measurement that enable organizations to work in concert, the requisite infrastructure will not evolve.


What might social change look like if funders, nonprofits, government officials, civic leaders, and business executives embraced collective impact? Recent events at Strive provide an exciting indication of what might be possible.

Strive has begun to codify what it has learned so that other communities can achieve collective impact more rapidly. The organization is working with nine other communities to establish similar cradle to career initiatives.4 Importantly, although Strive is broadening its impact to a national level, the organization is not scaling up its own operations by opening branches in other cities. Instead, Strive is promulgating a flexible process for change, offering each community a set of tools for collective impact, drawn from Strive’s experience but adaptable to the community’s own needs and resources. As a result, the new communities take true ownership of their own collective impact initiatives, but they don’t need to start the process from scratch. Activities such as developing a collective educational reform mission and vision or creating specific community-level educational indicators are expedited through the use of Strive materials and assistance from Strive staff. Processes that took Strive several years to develop are being adapted and modified by other communities in significantly less time.

These nine communities plus Cincinnati have formed a community of practice in which representatives from each effort connect regularly to share what they are learning. Because of the number and diversity of the communities, Strive and its partners can quickly determine what processes are universal and which require adaptation to a local context. As learning accumulates, Strive staff will incorporate new findings into an Internet-based knowledge portal that will be available to any community wishing to create a collective impact initiative based on Strive’s model.

This exciting evolution of the Strive collective impact initiative is far removed from the isolated impact approach that now dominates the social sector and that inhibits any major effort at comprehensive, large-scale change. If successful, it presages the spread of a new approach that will enable us to solve today’s most serious social problems with the resources we already have at our disposal. It would be a shock to the system. But it’s a form of shock therapy that’s badly needed.

John Kania is a managing director at FSG, where he oversees the firm’s consulting practice. Before joining FSG, he was a consultant at Mercer Management Consulting and Corporate Decisions Inc. This is Kania’s third article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Mark Kramer is the co-founder and a managing director of FSG. He is also the co-founder and the initial board chair of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, and a senior fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. This is Kramer’s fifth article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.


1 Interview with Kathy Merchant, CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, 1 April 10, 2010.

2 See Mark Kramer, Marcie Parkhurst, and Lalitha Vaidyanathan, Breakthroughs in
Shared Measurement and Social Impact, FSG Social Impact Advisors, 2009.

3 "Successful Starts," United Way of Greater Cincinnati, second edition, fall 2009.

4 Indianapolis, Houston, Richmond, Va., and Hayward, Calif., are the first four communities
to implement Strive's process for educational reform. Portland, Ore., Fresno,
Calif., Mesa, Ariz., Albuquerque, and Memphis are just beginning their efforts.



  • BY Deborah Ruf

    ON November 22, 2010 01:23 PM

    I will share this paper with as many people as I can. Like many of the people I know, I am an educational crusader. But slight differences in pet causes, belief systems, viewpoints ... can lead to a disorganized and ineffective approach. We all read the interviews and recommendations and start to disagree with one point or another and wonder why no one asks us what we think. This article is like a template as to how to do a better job by working more effectively together. I’m going to read it and reread it. Thank you!

  • Wow, what a fascinating article. As a student new to social entrepreneurship, the concept of collective impact introduces a whole new dimension to the field. I understand and agree with the observations regarding incentives (grants, demonstrated impact) that lead to isolated impact despite it’s limiting nature. The five conditions for collective impact are a great start to understanding how to confront large, complex (adaptive) problems. I hope that further research and examples of its effectiveness prompts government agencies and foundations to look for organizations trying to employee these principles as opposed to focusing on more independent approaches. A body of research supporting collective impact and a set of reusable “tools” will give social entrepreneurs or existing agencies the ability to justify playing the role of coordinator and facilitator rather than directly addressing a specific issue.

  • BY Patrick McNamara

    ON December 2, 2010 12:58 PM

    This is excellent – and it’s great to see yet another article advocating for whole-system social innovation and making sense of what’s needed in today’s uncertain, chaotic world in order to have significant impact on intractable social issues.

    Your advocacy of comprehensive initiatives with long-term commitment from funders and key players is laudable.  And, I wonder if you’ve build in principles of emergence to create solutions step by step?  In my experience restructuring community planning for the California State Office of AIDS we found a simpler way.  Budget cuts forced us to unwittingly use emergence to prototype, experiment, and test the new system on the fly.  New structures were developed quickly and inexpensively.  The resulting system includes networks for action, communities of practice, and knowledge-sharing to facilitate new flows of information, new structures and new ways of addressing HIV/AIDS in California.  Seventy-five people from different sectors created a solution that went far beyond what one individual organization could have developed on its own.  By seeing things whole we cut through the chaos and complexity and came to consensus on a more effective system that does more with less.

    My point is that one doesn’t need to wait for ideal conditions and full funding before launching into a systemic change initiative.  The key is in the convening – and a commitment to working through the difficult issues.  I also know that one can’t under-estimate the deep insights that come from including individuals effected by the social issue being addressed. And, having a backbone of support for a collaborative initiative is key to the success of its implementation.  I see that backbone as providing a new form of leadership for networked solutions and systemic change.

    Patrick McNamara
    Appreciative Inquiry Consulting

  • BY Midi Berry

    ON December 2, 2010 04:23 PM

    Great Article about a Fine Initiative! Thanks for publicizing!

  • Marc Brenman's avatar

    BY Marc Brenman

    ON December 2, 2010 05:37 PM

    I’m confused by this article.  When have “Annenberg Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trusts… abandoned many of their efforts in frustration after acknowledging their lack of progress”?  Or when has any large foundation admitted error or failure?  Second, the term “collective impact” seems off.  What is described is collective effort, not collective impact.  The classic error of confusing “A for effort” with actual achievement appears to have been made.  This is similar to the classic error of confusing outputs with outcomes.

  • BY Julia Glenn Carter

    ON December 3, 2010 07:03 AM

    Excellent analysis. This articulates what I’ve come to understand is the problem with tackling environmental challenges. While my company has taken a multi-discipline approach, “isolated impact” has prevailed. Current strategies won’t work for all the reasons stated in this article. I’d like to talk with John Kania & Mark Kramer about how their efforts could be applied to ours.

  • Mark Kramer's avatar

    BY Mark Kramer

    ON December 3, 2010 06:05 PM

    Thanks for the great and thoughtful comments.  John and I wanted to offer a few comments in reply.

    To Deborah and Jeff-  Thanks for you endorsement. We completely agree with Jeff that creating a resources of knowledge and tools on how collective impact initiatives can be created and managed would be valuable to the field - it’s something we’ve talked about at FSG—and if any funder reading this is interested, we’d love to discuss the idea.  BTW, we are doing a webinar with Jeff Edmondson from Strive on Jan 19 if you are interested in hearing more.

    To Patrick - our thanks as well.  And we completely agree that this approach is consistent with emergent solutions. We may not have used that term explicitly, but what we saw happening at Strive - the many little adjustments that led to a more effective collective impact—was very much an emergent model.  And we love your comment at the end that the backbone organization is a new form of leadership for networked and systemic change.  Certainly it is an excellent model for leadership - although we aren’t sure it is entirely new.  It parallels much of what we and Ron Heifetz wrote about in an earlier SSIR article “Leading Boldy” about adaptive leadership.  I hope you’ll join our webinar on Jan 19 - you bring great insights!

    To Marc- we’re sorry you found the article confusing.  Annenberg dropped education funding after its well-publicized lack of success on its $500 million program about 7 or 8 years ago.  Pew more recentlyannounced that they were discontinuing education funding until they could find an approach that would work because their past efforts hadn’t produced results.  Ford similarly declared failure.  I don’t have the citations with me (I’m on a train), but can find them for you, if you like. BTW, Hewlett and Irvine foundations publicly announced a major failed program about two years ago—and it was written up in the national press—so while I agree it is uncommon for foundations to admit failure, it does happen.  And we must respectfully disagree that the article is about collective effort rather than impact.  Strive has made progress on 34 out of 53 region-wide indicators of educational success.  The Elizabeth River has been dramatically restored.  We tried very hard to find examples that had actually demonstrated impact precisely to avoid the concern you raise—the examples in our article may not have completely ‘solved’ the problem, but they sure made well-documented impact.

    Finally, to Julia - thanks. We agree that collective impact is especially applicable to environmental issues.  Please email us if you’d like to talk. and

    Keep those comments coming—and join our webinar - soon to be announced by SSIR.

  • BY Ankit Tulsyan

    ON December 5, 2010 08:03 AM

    Hello Mark and John,

    The Collective Impact is a real need of the hour and I believe this generation of social entrepreneurs shedding of their personal Ego would definitely Collaborate for a Cause.

    Creating a Backbone body to initiate and propagate this theory is needed in volumes as well. One Major question to ask is how many people carry this far Insight? and how to create a sustainable model for such bodies who wish to catalyze the efforts for a large scale?

    One developing model I can cite is , a group led by young Engineers from India , who initiated a community based Education model in a remote place in India esp. in a state where teaching in English Medium is still objected in society.

    They are on lines of collective Impact involving small development stakeholders based in different geographical locations as partners with a back bone body as Renaissance India( ) initiating the concept of large scale change by collaboration to create a measurable and collective Impact.

    Please share more valuable inputs esp. on the two question raised and more of your Insights for a developing country like India where collective Impact and collaboration like concept is much needed to be implemented.

    Warm Regards

    Ankit Tulsyan

  • BY Peter Wood

    ON December 8, 2010 09:42 AM

    Really appreciate the Collective Impact concepts.  Health Foundation of South Florida has worked hard to establish a regional collaborative focused healthy aging.  We have incorporated all of the five conditions of collective success.

  • BY Dan Bassill

    ON December 8, 2010 11:27 AM

    You’re right on target when you talk of the challenges of building a network of purpose and finding the on-going flexible funding needed to do this.  I’ve been trying to build a network of people and organizations focused on helping high-quality, mentor-rich non-school tutor/mentor programs grow in Chicago since 1993, building off an informal networking effort that I had led since 1975.

    This PDF shows the steps in building a network of purpose.

    In this section of the web site we’re demonstrating how the actions of many people might be documented.

    Browse the other sections of this and other sites we manage and you can see how our approach may be different than Strive and others that you’ve mentioned. If someone is aggregating links to these intermediaries as I do at -  we can each learn from each other and donors might find us more easily.

    We’ve never had more than $225k in a single year (starting with no money and seven volunteers in 1993) and donors have constantly changes due to business conditions and grant guidelines.  Thus, building a case for collective action that would attract donors to intermediaries who are trying to build such networks is essential for much of this type of work to grow.

    It’s also important that groups who are already doing this work find ways to connect, share ideas, and work jointly to create a network of donors. 

    Because of the long-term nature of this I feel adoption by universities is essential since they have a constant stream of student manpower and are likely to be a consistent force in a community for decades.  Thus far I’ve not been able to reach that level of connection.

  • Jonathan Levine's avatar

    BY Jonathan Levine

    ON December 8, 2010 03:18 PM

    Guilty as charged!—having just left a funding foundation oriented to picking individual horses with “isolated impact.” The broken health care systems in Africa where I worked, with myriad NGOs, social enterprises, bi- and multilateral donors and UN agencies all tripping over each other to fix discrete pieces of discrete problems, should be fertile ground for the collective impact approach. One problem I see is that the “backbone” entity that should be coordinating efforts—the sovereign national governments (and respective ministries of health)—are usually poorly equipped to direct such massive change. So, careful not to dissuade any potential donation, they often allow their agendas to be directed by the sometimes conflicting (and often changing) policies of multiple large donors. While there has been some progress in recent years at consolidating efforts, there is still a long way to go. I wonder if, in your research, any examples or ideas emerged that might apply to this scale and scope of challenge?

  • Joseph Ngwegwe's avatar

    BY Joseph Ngwegwe

    ON December 9, 2010 06:08 AM

    Dear Mark and John,

    The article is interesting and something worth more exploration. I would think this could apply well in the developing countries where in the recent times we have witnessed myriads of NGOs and the likes lining for funding. I would say in my view there has been less improvement in the social problems the communities are grappling with. For example in Africa at almost 50 years of independence, countries still struggle with the three key and common enemies namely Poverty, Decease and Ignorance (illiteracy). Hundreds of NGOs in each country has emerged working in isolation on all of these challenges; they have not brought any significant relief to the majority of citizens who survive at less than USD 2 a day. Situations have also been aggravated by corruption damping out even the little achievements people could see. It is probably a high time now Collective impact concept is given a trial in Africa.

  • Mark Kramer's avatar

    BY Mark Kramer

    ON December 9, 2010 08:35 PM

    Thanks for all the great comments.  FSG has been working on a collective impact initiative with Mars to assist cocoa famers in Cote D’Ivoire, and although we agree with the challenges of engaging governments that Jonathan Levine mentions, we find the concept highly applicable to developing countries.  In fact, it is central to our thinking about agricultural development that will be the basis of a conference we are planning at Harvard this coming May.  In the meantime, I’ll invite my FSG colleagues who are working in Africa and India to add to these comments in response to Ankit and Joseph.

    Peter - we’d really be interesting in learning more about what the Health Foundation of Southern Florida is doing.  Have you any measurable impact to report? We are always looking for examples of collective impact.

    Dan - we empathize with the challenges of raising funds for backbone organizations.  Even Strive has had a hard time rasing funds, as donors tend to see the infrastructure as “mere overhead” and don’t understand the importance of coordination and alignment in their search for a silver bullet solution.  We very much hope that our article will help funders begin to see the value of supporting collective impact as opposed to individual programs and organizations.


  • BY Justin Bakule

    ON December 14, 2010 09:15 AM

    Jonathan and Joseph, thanks for your comments.  You both make great points with respect to the challenges of collective impact in developing countries.  We agree that it is important that sovereign governments play a strong, leading role in these initiatives.  We have observed a number of ways in which this happens at multiple levels - first, it is important to have minister level support of the common agenda.  Without high-level government alignment against the vision, the conditions for success are diminished.  Second, the day-to-day engagement point with governments is often in the next layer down in national institutes.  In agriculture this may include, for instance, the national research institutes charged with development of plant stock or the provision of extension workers as was mentioned in the article.  Oftentimes, these institutes cope with limited budgets but their local knowledge and experience is irreplaceable and a requirement for success.  Partnering with these institutes becomes easier when there is national support for the common agenda and vision…which is reinforced again when other stakeholders like multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors, commercial entities, etc. are also bought into the vision. 

    As for examples that Jonathan asked about, check out the work that is being done on agricultural corridors in Tanzania ( and Mozambique ( and I think you’ll recognize the spirit of what they’re trying to accomplish and how they’re engaging a diverse group of stakeholders around a common vision of agricultural cluster development.



  • BY Jacki Zehner

    ON December 14, 2010 04:35 PM

    I too will share this article with as many as possible.  This has truly informed by thinking about how to advance my area of passion - The Women’s Movement. We need to figure out how to work together to maximize our impact. Some of my favorite points about your article are…........

    - about isolated impact - “despite the dominance of of this approach, there is scant evidence that isolated initiatives are the best way to solve many social problems in today’s compex and interdependent world.”
    -This point - “social problems arise from the interplay of government and commercial activities, not only from the behavior of social sector organizations.  As a result, complex problems can be solved only by cross-sector coalitions that engage those outside the nonprofit sector.”
    - The FIVE CONDITIONS of Collective Success - love it!
    - “The expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons why it fails.”  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    - “Funders’ reluctance to pay for infrastructure and preference for short term solutions.”
    - The Story of STRIVE - that has a $1.5 million annual budget but is coordinating the efforts and increasing the effectiveness of organizations with combined budgets of $7 billion.” Refer to the upper point.  Funders don’t like to fund infrastructure and yet the leverage that could be created by funding infrastructure is HUGE.  We need to fund this infrastructure in a this Collective Impact manner.

    “Until funders are willing to embrace this new approach and invest sufficient resources in the necessary facilitation, coordination, and measurement that enable organizations to work in concert, the requisite infrastructure will not evolve.”  !!!!!!!!!!!! This is a call to action !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    So again I thank you for this amazing article.  I thank you for expanding my thinking about what is possible.  I thank you for encouraging this line of thinking.  This will, make a huge difference.

    Jacki Zehner - Vice Chair, The Women’s Funding Network and Women Moving Millions Donor

  • BY Michelle Morgan-Nelsen

    ON December 16, 2010 09:01 AM

    Great discussion here.  For an even deeper understanding of the collective impact approach, join SSIR and FSG for an upcoming webinar on collective impact on January 19th. 

    Learn more and register here: 

    Michelle Morgan-Nelsen, FSG

  • Gregory Kurth's avatar

    BY Gregory Kurth

    ON January 4, 2011 01:31 PM

    The five types of collaborations are a great conceptual framework.  I’ve been frustrated with all the wonderful “social sector networks” that act more like Rotary clubs than impactful leaders.

    I thnk the artilce understates the importance of the public sector.  Yes, all sectors coming together can create impact, but the public sector has the big purse strings, the ability to assist on infrastructure, and quickly sabotage both financially and politically.  Some grant making entitites like Casey Family Foundation have almost solely targeted their efforts on large public entities that have the ability to influence providers, clients, and funding of human servcies, for example, as opposed to making service-related grants.

    I’d like to see an article about how to get the mindset of “venture philanthropists” into all sectors.  A major challenge is the lack of experiences of individual leaders in mutli-sectors.  To what extent are foundations hiring from the corporate and community organization world?  How can government tap “venture philanthropists” to focus on public policy?  We all need such multi-sector experiences to be comfortable in moving towards a really collective impact.

  • BY Lyn Davis

    ON January 4, 2011 01:32 PM

    For several years, my nonproft has been trying to get people to see the big picture and the solutions.  Check out both our websites.

  • Interesting article. I would be interested in the citations to the various foundations that felt their years of work didn’t pan out. Please understand that I ask not to bash these foundations, on the contrary they should be applauded for being frank and relfect openly about their results.

    I would also be interested in your thoughts on the Comprehensive Community Initiatives movement of a decade back. It seems like it was an attempt to do some of what you are touching on. Did that pan out?

    Finally, how does this work for addressing social issues that, perhaps inherently, involve conflict? Such as policies for low-income or women workers that might be opposed by some powerful interests in a community because the solutions regulate the workplace or wages (e.g., sick leave, maternity leave, minimum wage, etc.).

  • BY Keith Pezzoli

    ON January 8, 2011 11:47 PM

    This is a terrific article, the principles of which I agree wholeheartedly. We are trying hard to build the infrastructure (social and technical) to enable collective impact. The necessary precursor, as you point out is a convergence of interests, and a kind of connect the dots philosophy embedded in actionable vision.

    Our Global Action Research Center (The Global ARC) “connect the dots” by bringing together diverse community-based organizations, engaged researchers and others who share common cause (e.g., the desire to create healthy communities where our basic needs for water, food, energy, and transportation are met in sustainable ways).  Convergence events seek mutually reinforcing common ground and actionable vision in light of the larger regional and global forces/flows within which we all work. The next convergence will be in the summer of 2011.

    Your article is an inspiration. Keep up the great work.

    Keith Pezzoli

  • Tikaram Adhikari's avatar

    BY Tikaram Adhikari

    ON January 12, 2011 07:57 AM

    Very interesting article and very good analysis. I like the principles outlined in this article for achieving collective social change. It is not only the creaztion of a working system that is important but the team of dedicated staff in the forfront of social change and at the support level. If we can encourage people to see the bigger picture and learn to move outside the box we would create a much better impact collectively. The problem of the time is people are so focused on seeing thier sector performance and not able to assess the interconnectedness among the sectors that fails to proivide the collective impact.

    At the same time I like the idea of communication being the key part of the process. Organizations need to create a vehicle for effective communication and provide a forum where sector staff can share what they are doing in their own areas. Just the fact of knowledge exchange is a powerful meeans of influencing larger impact at the society level.

    We are working for creation of a measurement system for a programme and this article helps to bring in innovative ideas in the process.

  • Charlie Rock's avatar

    BY Charlie Rock

    ON January 19, 2011 09:04 AM

    I remember a similar story of a region in California with multiple partners, and the Annie B.Casey Foundation as one of most creative innovators (cooperative, inclusive, multiple stakeholders involvement) about 3-4 years ago at least.  I was impressed.  Nice to see that the concept is spreading. 
    Only problem ia we do not really allocate enough resources to adequately address all the social needs (housing, health, safety, basic income insurance, etc.) in the US, and the gap is even greater, and growing, in these bad economic times.  These innovations in collaboration make the limited resources go further, but national and state policy changes and more financial supports/incentives will be necessary if we really want to profoundly address the challenges facing the bottom third of Americans. 

    Also, is this really so very new….remember the Community Development Corporations’ movement in its early dreamstates of bringing in all the necessary players—way back in the 1960s and early 1970s?

  • Soultana Nolidis's avatar

    BY Soultana Nolidis

    ON January 19, 2011 11:56 AM

    Dear Mark and John,

    Thank you for articulating what many of us have observed from the sidelines and have concluded privately. 

    I shared your article on LinkedIn and a friend commented: “Collective efforts bear fruit by developing community fabric.”

    I’d like to copy my reply (abbreviated due to character limits imposed by LinkedIn.)

    “Yes, fabric woven tightly enough to prevent least among us from falling through.

    Especially agree w/¶13 ie stakeholder leadership must focus effort+impact on outcomes which refer back to total need, a pet peeve of mine: ‘...respected nonprofits…decades to reach…1000s of kids..achievement.. [falls] short of..millions…kids that need help.’

    Also agree w/ ¶6: ‘Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve..centralized infrastructure..dedicated staff..structured process..leads to..common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication..mutually reinforcing activities among all..’ And I presume ‘dedicated staff’ = paid nonprofit staff, not just volunteers.”

    With many thanks for this article and appreciation for your talents,

    Soultana Nolidis

  • BY Jean Horstman

    ON January 20, 2011 11:26 AM

    First, let me begin by saying thank you to John and Mark for providing some thought-provoking and stimulating content.

    At Interise, we’re building a network of partners through a licensing program that meets the five criteria of collective impact. We provide our partners with the curriculum, training, on-going support, and evaluation services to be implemented within their own business development programs.  By sharing best practices and success stories, we can learn from each other about what works and what doesn’t. 

    Each year we survey current and past participants to gather social and economic impact data, regardless of the program they went through. The data is released to the public annually in our Report Card ( We’re also working with wonderful foundations like Surdna to bring our licensing program to new communities. Building relationships with organizations outside of the nonprofit sector has allowed us to achieve a striking impact we wouldn’t have been able to by working in isolation.

  • Maria Molfino's avatar

    BY Maria Molfino

    ON January 23, 2011 09:11 PM

    Hi John and Mark,

    Fascinating article!

    What is the best training/development for a young person (i.e., recent college graduate) passionate about social innovation and collective impact to work towards becoming a “backbone organizer”? Are there currently any formal programs/trainings that target developing these kinds of leaders?

    Thanks for your insight,

  • BY Tom Gallagher

    ON January 24, 2011 05:58 PM

    It is heartening to see FSG and SSIR raise this issue to such a high level. The potential for foundations to do much more good with the same resources is very high, but the transition will be painful I suspect as it a major departure in methodology. 

    The ideas are also affirming as our organization, the Ford Institute for Community Building, has been investing in collective impact for the past decade. Our focus, however, is on small towns (under 30,000 population) and this adds some nuances to the concept worth sharing.

    About our investments, in 2000 our board gave the Institute the charge to engage small towns in solving their own problems, a Kellogg-style approach. Staff responded with a program based on a theory of change called The Tupelo Model of Community Development developed by the Heartland Center for Leadership Development in Lincoln, Nebraska and the Brushy Forks Institute at Berea College in Kentucky. Guided by that model we decided to invest heavily in training to develop a broad, diverse base of leaders in each community. It is this cadre of leaders who then strengthen community organizations and have the capacity to lead those organizations in collaborations. We presently have over 3,500 graduates of our leadership classes spread among 75% of Oregon’s small towns and the numbers of graduates and coverage is continuing.

    Following a 5-year training series, we provide assistance grants to help communities develop a common vision and priorities, the common agenda. We also developed an indicators program and supporting data base with over 20 data sources at the Oregon State University library. We are seeing the collective impact the Tupelo model predicts on many scales.

    Here I would offer four comments about collective impact and rural communities. First, the isolated impact model can be more damaging in small towns than in cities given that most organization leaders and staff are volunteers and they know each other. A large grant to one organization can dramatically upset the “ecology” of community organizations. Second, it is important to note that problems in small towns are not necessarily solved by government or non-profits, but also by membership groups such as clubs and churches and by informal groups such as neighbors and families, often extended. Thus, who is engaged may need to be broader than in a more urban model. Third, a backbone support organization in rural areas probably need not have paid staff (due to issues of imbalance from the first point above). I think we’ve demonstrated that well positioned assistance grants that bring in a professional at key times is suffient to move many projects forward. And last, rural communities need to define both the problem and the solution (although we can argue). Top down initiatives that define their problem, even if they strive for collective action, won’t work if it is not the town’s priority, or not their solution. I suspect the same is true in urban areas. 

    Our board has had the patience to stay with our initiative for over 10 years. I would say they agree that “funders must help create and sustain the collective processes, measurement reporting systems, and community leadership that enable cross-sector coalitions to arise and thrive.” I would argue that community leadership—far beyond the usual suspects and existing power structure—is the foundation of success at least in rural areas. This might be emphasized more, even for those serving urban areas, particularly neighborhoods.

    Information about the Institute can be found at: > Ford Institute. The database for measuring indicators change is at:

  • BY Karl Stauber

    ON January 31, 2011 09:14 PM

    John and Mark—
    Excellent paper.  This is one of the most important pieces I’ve read about the practice of philanthropy in the last 35+ years.

    Based on the examples you gave and my own experience, “collective impact” requires “place,” or is at least more likely to succeed with place.  Part of the failure of Gates, Ford, Annenberg and Pew may be the tacit assumption that place is not important, that education is a technical problem.  As your own examination suggests, place may be unimportant on technical problems (how to get vaccines that do not require refrigeration), but for adaptive ones, a place component may be critical.

    By place, I’m talking about geographically based initiatives, where the growth of local or regional capacity and bridging and bonding social capital, are part of the solution.  Too often funders see a problem or opportunity from a “tool” perspective.  I’ve certainly made the mistake of believing what we needed to do was find a tool that worked somewhere and just modify it to this situation.  That is trying to make a technical solution behave like an adaptive one, when it is still really a technical approach.  I’m not suggesting ignoring the tool-based experience of others, but stopping at understanding what worked somewhere else can be a trap.

    I’ve made this mistake numerous times during my career, but your article helped me to understand it more clearly.  At Northwest Area (with which I am no longer associated, so these comments are only mine), we unfortunately often saw poverty as a technical problem, not as an adaptive one.  This was reinforced by beliefs in many communities that all they had to do was find and transfer the right technical model, especially in areas like economic development.  Thus the pursuit of best practice without understanding what “best” required.  As Michael Q. Patton asked several years ago, “What makes a best practice, best?”  For many opportunities, “best” requires a place-specific adaptive answer, rather than a technical one.

    Part of our difficulties at Northwest Area had to do with underestimating what is required for a community or region to be “ready.”  The communities where our support produced the greatest outcomes were those most ready.  We did some things to help communities become more ready, but we were often in too much of a hurry.  The five conditions you outline are excellent dimensions along which we can observe readiness.  As some of the other comments suggest, one does not have to wait until all five conditions are met, but funders can use the five to help make both developmental and implementation support more useful.

    I encourage you to take your challenge to funders a step further.  Most of my career in philanthropy I have worked as an external funder, representing an organization that is not in the community or region where the money is being spent.  For the last three years I have served as an embedded funder for the first time in my career (at Danville Regional Foundation we are actively engaged in all five dimensions you suggest—we will see if we get them right).  The two approaches are significantly different.  You suggest that funders shift “…to leading a long-term process of social change.”  External funders cannot lead from a distance, or if they do they often fall into the trap of a technical approach.  Most external funders end up being rule or covenant driven, not able to fully comprehend and act with adequate speed on what needs to happen in the community or region. 

    External funders can invest in readiness but they cannot create it. People and organizations near the ground must create readiness.  Both external and embedded funders can make investments in ways that actually damage the ability of communities to meet the five conditions.  Much of the technical work of philanthropy is based on the assumption that diffusion occurs automatically, or by some natural means.  What this article helps me to understand is that social capacity represented by excellent backbone organizations and several of the other conditions, is critical to the diffusion of adaptive solutions.  External and embedded funders that are unwilling or unable to invest in such social capacity end up reinforcing the mal-distribution of opportunity in America.  This opportunity segregation is particular critical in places of low capacity and low philanthropic connections like many rural and urban low-income areas. 

    What if national or regional funders used their resources to encourage the development of the five capacities proposed in this paper, as a few have?  What if embedded funders focused on the new leadership role you propose, as a few have?  I think we would be significantly further along addressing regionally defined opportunities and solutions, rather than waiting for someone telling us what best practice to pursue.  But in your next paper, I hope you will explore the question, When embedded leadership best comes from funders and when it best comes from less financially privileged organizations?  Does it matter?  My instinct is that it does.

    Thanks for making such an excellent discussion possible.
    Karl Stauber, President & CEO, Danville (VA) Regional Foundation

  • BY Blair Taylor

    ON February 8, 2011 03:59 PM

    Hi Mark and John - great piece. I noticed in one of the comments that you are looking for examples of collective impact.  I’d love to tell you about one here in Memphis Tennessee.  As the President of Memphis Tomorrow, a CEOs group, we have served as a catalyst, convenor and strategic partner for a collective impact initiative called Memphis Fast Forward that has 3 distinct collective impact initiatives within it in the arenas of crime reduction, education and economic development.  Each is at a different stage of development and has has an array of different stakeholders and partners, each with its own ‘backbone’ organization, and with some common threads connecting the three.  The one around crime reduction is the most evolved and might be a good study subject!

    Blair Taylor
    Memphis Tomorrow

  • BY Gary Timko

    ON April 22, 2011 03:03 PM

    I am wondering if you can tell me what is the differences, if any, between collective impact and systems change?

  • BY Heidi Sheppard, NIST Manufacturing Extension Partn

    ON July 22, 2011 02:28 PM

    I enjoyed your article, especially as it relates to our group, the Interagency Network of Enterprise Assistance Providers.  Although not working in the educational field, per se, we are a network of representatives from federal agencies, non-profits, and associations that focus on assisting small and medium sized businesses, especially manufacturers.  The collective impact is on the economy though helping businesses grow and prosper.  Would enjoy chatting with you about how your work can be applied to our group.  Thanks.

  • Kaleigh Schwalbe, Public Allies Arizona's avatar

    BY Kaleigh Schwalbe, Public Allies Arizona

    ON September 27, 2011 01:19 PM

    This article is wonderful and clearly outlines and describes an important aspect of working in the non-profit sector, coalition building.  Building coalitions is a project I am continually advocating for, and this article brings out some key points, problems, and strategies for success that are instrumental in successful coalition building.  Well done!  I am happy to have found this article and am looking forward to implementing these strategies in the coalitions I participate in.  I have noticed in the comment section that Mark has mentioned a webinar on January 13th.  How did it go?  I am very interested in learning more about FSG, Strive and collective impact, and would appreciate any direction as to where I could find more information.  Besides the company web sites, of course.

    Thank you!

    Kaleigh Schwalbe - Public Allies Americorps Member, placed at Mountain Park Health Center (Phoenix, AZ)

  • BY Frank Dickerson

    ON October 26, 2011 08:44 AM

    It is motivating to see from an eagle’s-eye perspective that collective action works.

    However, where are the people?

    I would suggest (and I hate that academic hedging word, “suggest”) . . . but I’ll use it. I suggest that the stories of change reviewed here were probably empowered by some pretty interesting people. I think the real key to replicating the notion of collective action is to understand the who and how of the underlying story.

    Who led the charge and how did they do it?

    If we think of that crowded room in Philadelphia where collective action led to the founding of America in the late 18th century, we think of the goading Adams, the eloquent Jefferson, the old guy Franklin.

    Most of us have enjoyed the play and movie treatment of 1776 in which the chemistry of these different characters pushed America to the brink then over it to revolt.

    In the 19th Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. The Pareto Principle later was popularized to apply to many areas of life (e.g. that 20% of a sales force accounts for 80 percent of all sales). I am guessing that this holds true for Strive and many other examples of collective impact. Each probably had its equivalent of an Adams, a Jefferson, and a Franklin—all of whom played key roles in the revolt that brought collective change.

    I’d suggest (and there again I go with that wimpy academic hedging word, “suggest”) that the key to these endeavors’ success was in its leadership. The next step in this wonderful research, then, is to tell the tales of the heroines and heroes who made it happen. Tell me who lit the collective butt of the group to move—what was the tension? what kinds of battles erupted? how was conflict resolved? And most important, who were the prime movers and why were they the heroes?  Peters and Waterman did this kind of analysis in their landmark book on lessons from America’s best companies: In Search of Excellence (1982).

    Tell me the rest of the story.

    Write a follow up article that reads like a play that tells these wonderful stories with the protagonists, the antagonists, and supporting ensemble cast fleshed out. Show me the tension, the hero’s journey and the resolution.

    That way others can cheer and emulate the example of the wondrous things collective action hath wrought!

  • BY Maria Martinez-Cosio, University of Texas Arlingto

    ON October 27, 2011 09:47 AM

    I do research on comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs) and found this article incredibly useful. Some asked for citations of CCIs that have failed. The Hewlett’s NII is a classic study, largely because most foundations that fail at CCIs or other comm dev efforts don’t often like to attract publicity to negative outcomes—Hewlett is thus rare.

    Hard lessons about philanthropy & community change from the Neighborhood Improvement Initiative
    Authors: Brown, Prudence, and Leila Fiester.
    Source: 2007, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Menlo Park, California

    Toward Greater Effectiveness in Community Change:
    Challenges and Responses for Philanthropy
    Authors: Brown, Prudence; Chaskin, Robert J.; Hamilton, Ralph; Richman, Harold
    Source: 2003, The Foundation Center

    Learning from the Journey: Reflections on the Rebuilding Communities Initiative
    Authors: Casey, Annie E.
    Source: 2002, Annie E. Casey Foundation

    An evaluation of the Ford Foundation’s neighborhood and family initiative
    Authors: Chaskin, R.; Chipenda-Sansokho, S.; Joseph, M.; Richards, C.
    Source: 2001, University of Chicago, Chapin Hall, Chicago, IL

    I have others and can share if interested-

  • BY Katherine Wertheim, CFRE

    ON January 2, 2012 04:22 PM

    Great article. I have two comments. One is that you might want to ask the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation about their ending their Faith in Action initiiative after giving out $50 million of a planned $100 million. They were funding interfaith programs in local communities to use volunteers to help people with chronic medical conditions. They might be another example for you of a major foundation giving up a program.

    My second comment is that nonprofits in Santa Barbara, California, in their March 2012 annual convening of nonprofits, called the Partnership for Excellence, will be discussing Collective Impact. Organizers are sending out the link to this article, and are inviting government and corporate representatives to join the discussion this year. I thought you’d be pleased to know that.

  • BY Christopher Brown

    ON January 11, 2012 07:01 AM

    Great article indeed.  At National Fatherhood Initiative we use elements of collective impact to mobilize entire communities to create collaborative efforts to address the consequences of father absence.  We’ve found that a coordinated, multi-sector approach with a shared goal and how to reach that goal is critical to addressing the systemic factors that result in father absence.  It is difficult to help funders to see the need to fund this kind of collaborative effort, although more of them seem to understand the need for collaboration and, of course, measuring impact.  Thanks so much for this article.  We will use it to help us further improve our mobilization model.

  • BY Daniel Bassill

    ON January 18, 2012 01:33 PM

    Since I first read this article a few months ago I’ve seen it referenced all over the Internet which shows the power of the ideas that are being shared.

    However, I have not seen many visualizations of the process of building and sustaining collective efforts in many places.  I’ve been trying to harness the potential of maps (both geographic and concept) as well as social network analysis tools. 

    This article illustrates how such tools could show the growth of a network, the diversity of its membership,, and the distribution of its reach in a geographic area.

    If some of those who are already further along in this process are using these types of tools to evaluate their process and impact, or to describe what they do for others to understand please share your web addresses in Twitter or Facebook groups.

    Because groups grow over time mapping the growth of networks and the distribution of impact would take consistent funding for many years unless ownership were in volunteer-based organizations or universities with access to student manpower.

  • BY Mitch Hurst

    ON January 26, 2012 10:33 AM

    I would be great if grantmaking foundations set aside a portion of their grant dollars every year specifically for collaborative efforts. While there’s an undercurrent of focus on collaboration throughout much grantmaking, it’s not as deliberate as it should be. Foundations need to develop their collaborative instincts, and in some ways that means rethinking the business of grantmaking, including how their internal systems for data collection and accountability work. Social media, it seems to me, and the ability to monitor conversations in communities and about pertinent issues might be a good place for foundation to start thinking about how to adopt a more collective approach to achieving their missions.

  • BY monika hardy

    ON February 24, 2012 11:28 AM

    currently working on this collective impact in colorado.
    imagine the ideas here, unleashed from our thinking of what school is.
    perhaps, a collective collective impact.

  • BY Pam Pittman

    ON February 26, 2012 02:02 PM

    I would like to connect with John Kania and Mark Kramer regarding the Collective Impact article from Winter 2011. The innovative Higher Ed Forum is expanding exponentially through critical dialogue and collective action.  My current dissertation topic is exploring what is going on in this arena. See and you can email me if you have time and interest. Great article!

  • BY Zarrin Caldwell

    ON February 29, 2012 12:42 PM

    Enjoyed the article and agree w/ the general premise of the power of collective action.

    I have a hobby peacebuilding website touching on some of these same ideas. “Models of Unity™” is designed to showcase those initiatives that are working to bring people together across divides of race, ethnicity, and religion in ways that benefit the spiritual, social, and/or economic life of their communities.

    I don’t feature things like short-term training programs, but I have several cases posted ( where groups of people have worked across divides to further common goals for their communities. Sounds like a version of “collective impact!”

  • BY Geoffrey Morton-Haworth

    ON March 13, 2012 03:42 AM

    Hi Mark and John

    Although I like the idea of creating a “backbone” to support cross-sector coordination, I wonder if that isn’t better done by creating a web-based platform for collaboration staffed by people from the various existing organisations. Hopefully, this creates a supportive network/heterarchy that does not carry with it the threat/confusion of a separate, competing power base.

    Also, while I agree of course with shared agenda(s) and common measurement system, there is a always a danger of reducing the conversation to numbers and I find an emphasis on metrics can easily become a diversion.

    What are you/others finding?

  • BY Dave Dardis

    ON April 10, 2012 02:13 PM

    I would like to connect with John Kania and Mark Kramer regarding the Collective Impact article from Winter 2011.

    We have already joined the Strive Network and want to include the right portfolio of “Best Practices” as we move forward.  We are about to launch the next phase of the Latino Report Card of Silicon Valley. Version Latino Report Card.pdf   With partnerships with 5 local non-profits, we want to do a broad community engagement on Quality of Life factors that affect our Latino community and then develop initiatives (and implement them) to improve the grades in the report card.

    We believe our project fits the Collective Impact model and want to leverage our efforts to maximize the measured results in our community. 

  • BY Mike Murray - FSG

    ON April 26, 2012 04:29 PM

    Thanks everyone for your comments and continued interest in collective impact.  Please see below for responses to some of your individual remarks:

    It’s great to hear that this article is helping bring together partners across sectors to address important issues in the Santa Barbara community.  We’d love to hear more about any insights that emerged from the Partnership for Excellence discussion.

    Father absence is exactly the type of problem collective impact is designed to address – one that is complex, has many causes, and involves multiple stakeholders.  We’re thrilled to hear you’ve found success using this approach and encourage you to read our second article ( on collective impact that takes a deeper dive into how to successfully implement a collective impact initiative.

    Below are some additional resources you may find of interest:

    A Monitor-GEO paper on “networks”:

    “How to organize alliances of multiple organizations,”a blog post on

    Great comment.  We agree that funders can do more to support collaborative initiatives.  Some ways they can do this are to focus on the overall issue, not just the individual grantees; to pay attention to the relationships between organizations in addition to the capacity of individual organizations; to think about long term process and gradual impact rather than short term solutions; and to build knowledge and alignment through shared measurement systems, regular meetings, and backbone organizations.

    Hi Geoffrey,
    You raise some great points.  We’ve found that the backbone of a collective impact initiative can come in many forms.  Examples of the different kinds of successful backbone structures we’ve encountered in our work are discussed in Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work, published online on this January and mentioned in my response to Christopher above.

    One model that may be of interest to you is the backbone structure for the Magnolia Place Community Initiative in Los Angeles, where multiple partner organizations filled different backbone roles.  The advantages of this type of structure include broad buy-in across partners, the sharing of expertise, and lower investment required on the part of each partner.  However, as you mention, this structure carries the challenges of coordinating across partners and creating accountability.

    Regarding shared measurement, you may want to look at the following blogs: http:,//

    Thank you again for your insightful comments and your interest in collective impact.  We hope you will continue to share your thoughts, questions, and experiences so we can all further our understanding of successful collaboration in addressing social problems.
    Thanks again,
    Mike Murray - FSG

  • Maria Teresa Gnecco's avatar

    BY Maria Teresa Gnecco

    ON July 2, 2012 09:10 AM

    Thanks so much for this excellent article.  In Bogotá,  Colombia we have a large non profit NGO Minuto de Dios composed of 8 entities and one of them is a University. In order to enlarge coberture of stundents facing poverty different departments of the university whithin the university worked together in a collaborative process to desigh 8 stretegies . The strategies were:

    Increase of University sites
    University locations in far, small, poor and isolated locations
    Offering Higher Education Programs in small cities without a University
    Different models to study, presential and on line
    Different levels of higher education from last two years of high school to techinical technological, undergaduate and graduate levels.
    Wide offer of disciplines
    Finance facilities
    I don’t know if you can call it collective impact, but the increase in ten years has been from 221 in 1992 the year it was founded ,to 68.379 in 2012

  • Marc Nisbet's avatar

    BY Marc Nisbet

    ON July 3, 2012 08:31 AM

    Hello John & Mark,

    I am happy to have found this literature. Support structures like the ones outlined in your article   have been credited, in part, for some of the early success of the social economy in Quebec.

    I am embarking on some research around how non-profits are experiencing cross-sectoral partnerships and would love to speak with either of you about your observations on this front.


    Marc Nisbet
    Montreal, Canada

  • BY Gwendolyn Relf

    ON July 13, 2012 01:38 AM

    Great article! I’m thankful that it is still available in the portal. Over the last 6 six years, I’ve worked with a community in Central-West Phoenix to bring social and economic changes. We’re fortunate to have been a grantee of the Weed & Seed federal grants of the past. We also have the support of a local foundation, St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, that promotes much of what has been written in your article. And, they’re currently funding a Consultant through their Technical Assistance Partnership (TAP) Program to guide us through the initial phases of implementing the Collective Impact Model.

    Thanks again for sharing such a powerful and insightful article.

    Gwen Relf

  • Heidi Vaughn's avatar

    BY Heidi Vaughn

    ON July 25, 2012 06:06 PM

    I am in love with this article. I work for a statewide program that works to prevent child abuse and unintentional injuries. We are perfectly set up to support this structure with partners and have a few questions:
    1) Do you know of any other entity working with this structure to reduce child abuse/childhood injuries?
    2) Are there supporting documents that you could share? Specifically, indicators, facilitation or evaluation.
    3) What can you share in terms of lessons learned?
    4) Can I contact you directly with future questions?

    Thank you so much!

  • BY Gary B. Brumback, PhD

    ON August 20, 2012 06:04 PM

    John and Mark, I have a proposal i am beginning to send foundations that could create a future shock. Read my website to get the background and general approach.

    If you will e-mail me i will tell you more about it.

    Gary Brumback

  • Great paper advocating a systems perspective to complex social issues. It reminds of multi agency teams - that focus on one person/client.

  • BY Doug Covey

    ON December 14, 2012 09:45 AM

    Our COO is involved with the Generation Next Program through ASU.  The meeting today (12-14-12) centers on this literature.  Students were asked to read this paper and prepare for a facilitated discussion around the “Five Conditions of Collective Success”; using their organizations as the examples.  They plan to break into groups and discuss the opportunities and challenges faced by their organization and finish up with an exercise in “Community Engagement” and Collective Impact. 

    I believe it is in the best interest of any organization or business to adopt the principals in this well articulated article.

    Thank you for sharing -

    Doug Covey

  • dorothy's avatar

    BY dorothy

    ON January 8, 2013 12:09 PM

    Just saw this on reddit.  I’d like to see a group of individuals that band together to use their buying power collectively to create change. Imagine profits dropping by 30% until a company agreed to clean up pollution they had caused?  A group of people dedicated to just watch where they spend their money could solve some major issues in this world. I see no reason why it wouldn’t work, in fact I think collective impact is the only thing that will create lasting change in the world.

  • Evan Baldwin's avatar

    BY Evan Baldwin

    ON February 14, 2013 10:57 PM

    Most problems that are so large in magnitude require a broader shift in thinking and perspective. Issues are rarely micro and sometimes need to be tackled on a macro level. Perhaps healthcare is also something that would require a broader approach to getting solved. News

  •'s avatar

    BY, SEL Alliance for Massachusetts (SAM)

    ON March 4, 2013 09:22 AM

    Thank you for this very important article.  I am going to post it for our members at: because it inspires us here at the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Alliance for Massachusetts (SAM).  Thank you for this good work.

  • Jim Loving's avatar

    BY Jim Loving

    ON March 6, 2013 12:50 PM

    I really enjoyed this article.  I found it from a link discussing the six practices of high impact NGOs and the book Forces for Good.  I am reading up on approaches as I am talking to a new/emerging, start-up NGO.  What struck me about the “Collective Impact” concept and approach was how much it mirrored work done by IBM Public Sector consultants 8 years ago in developing a method (similar in concept to Strive using GE’s LSS method) to help an eco-system that includes the private sector, public sector, and civil society achieve “Shared Public Outcomes.”  IBM developed a method for use in achieving Collective Impact or Shared Public Outcomes called “Outcomes Based Delivery.”  I just shared your article with one of the Patent pending authors.  She and I worked with the University of Marylands RH Smith School Center for Social Value Creation in 2011 to analyze potential benefits of having a method like OBD for achieving “Collective Impact” in attempting to build “Smarter Cities.”

  • We’re a bunch of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our neighborhood. Your web site offered us with useful info to work on. You’ve performed an
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  • BY Eileen Ellsworth

    ON April 30, 2013 01:30 PM

    A very provocative message for the philanthropic sector actually lives here, something that upends traditional and current notions of how we fundamentally engage in philanthropy.  And this is it:  Philanthropy as currently practiced is inadequate to effect positive change on complex social issues.  As Kania and Kramer describe it, philanthropists seek the “best” individual nonprofits to fund, which encourages nonprofits to highlight their unique and isolated impact on the issue.  In the end, nonprofits are rewarded for working alone and not in concert with others.  Funders of all stripe should note what Kania and Kramer are really saying:  Isolated impact is the direct result of the thinking and behavior of philanthropists, not the nonprofits they fund.  We need to stop blaming nonprofits for failing to collaborate. The root of the problem lays much closer to home.

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