Collective impact (CI) is an exciting trend in the nonprofit sector within the past decade. Many organizations, often from all sectors, unite to “move the needle” on a complex social challenge like eliminating poverty or achieving educational equity. The classic article that describes CI is Collective Impact, and a leading example of a CI initiative in the Seattle area is the Roadmap Project.
At the 2014 Independent Sector conference in Seattle this week, I had the opportunity to discuss funding trends, including CI, with a group of nonprofit executives and funders from across the country. The conversation highlighted both benefits and challenges associated with the model. The following is a list of things we discussed, with some grantees organizations offering interesting specific examples of how the approach can have unintended consequences.
- Better odds of achieving systemic change through collaboration and uniting the expertise and effort of many organizations
- Alignment of outcomes
- Research and evaluation component to prove whether specific interventions are effective
- Easier avenue for funders to invest in a particular area, with their pooled funding distributed by a backbone organization to a number of nonprofits doing relevant work on the issue
- Opportunities for funders to be more highly engaged
- Forum for diverse stakeholders to build relationships, learn from each other, think systemically and develop a more sophisticated understanding of the issue and potential solutions
- Potential to see results more quickly since so many are applying themselves to achieving the same outcomes
- Funders shifting funding to CI initiatives and defunding some grantees in the process. For example, many CI initiatives are place-based, so if your organization works on the focus issue outside the target area, you are not eligible for funding.
- A substantial percentage of funding goes to the backbone organization (for convening, planning, granting and evaluation) rather than to direct services
- Since there is a middleman, grantees may lose the opportunity to have a direct relationship with the funders
- Funded nonprofits often face different and more demanding requirements to receive funding from the initiative than they had prior from the individual funders. Pooled funding can mean a pooled—and lengthy—list of requirements.
- It can be very political to compete for CI dollars, and there is intense pressure on nonprofits to attend planning and coordinating meetings in order to establish relationships and be eligible/competitive for funding. This requirement to be at the table effectively shuts out smaller nonprofits with limited staffing capacity (including most organizations led by people from marginalized groups).
- Collaboration is hard and time-consuming. Participating nonprofits are typically not directly compensated for their collaboration time.
- Did I mention that there are a lot of meetings?