The Case for Collective Impact and Cross-Sector Partnerships


Philanthropist's Field Guide

The Case for Collective Impact and Cross-Sector Partnerships

Termed by the consultancy FSG, collective impact refers to a structured partnership model that brings together stakeholders in government, business, nonprofits, and philanthropy to tackle complex social issues. By uniting key players from across sectors, this structured partnership model empowers these groups to commit to a shared agenda and measurement system that will better position them to solve a social problem.

bird's eye view of people walking on top of a tri-colored large walkway

When is collective impact the right approach?

Collective impact is an option when engaging in place-based philanthropy or when seeking to reconfigure societal structures to remedy a seemingly intractable social issue. This powerful approach helps align stakeholder objectives, which in turn empowers them to identify comprehensive solutions to a local problem, with a focus on the root cause.

What makes a collective impact effort successful?

Using the collective impact framework, groups can collaborate in a way that is strategic and holistic, effectively positioning them to make a transformative impact. Collective impact initiatives consist of:

  • a common agenda and shared objectives

  • agreed-upon metrics for measuring data, results, and success

  • mutually reinforcing activities

  • open and continuous communication

  • a coordinating organization that can manage the logistics of the partnership

How should a philanthropist engage in collective impact?

Individual philanthropists can support the formation and coordination of a local collective by funding the creation of a “backbone” organization that can lead communication efforts and facilitate the development of a collaborative’s goals, strategies, and measurement practices. While institutional foundations have traditionally supported collective impact initiatives, individual philanthropists are well-positioned to underwrite these efforts. However, funders should remember that collective impact structures require that power be distributed among the various local stakeholders. For this reason, they should be willing to relinquish some decision-making authority.

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Published September 23, 2020