In a recent exchange on the Collective Impact Forum, CoCreative partner Russ Gaskin offered some advice about funding and shared measurement concerns that might arise among stakeholders when initiating a collective impact initiative. These concerns are often characterized as:
"Funding is already competitive and the non-profit organizations we're talking to are concerned that funding the collective impact collaboration will take away from their program funding.
"We're already challenged to get the resources and capacity we need to accomplish our mission and deliver our programs. Adding all this measurement, and having to collaborate on that with other stakeholders seems like it's beyond our bandwidth. How do we reconcile this?
Russ provided the following tips for leaders facing similar concerns when launching collaborative initiatives of any type:
"First, make sure that people are connected to a shared vision that's big enough that people MUST collaborate in order to achieve it. Otherwise, you don't even need or want to use a collaborative approach because that would be a waste of time and resources. A good goal that requires collaboration is big, meaningful, specific, and timebound – like "We guarantee that 100% of third graders in our community will read at grade level by 2023."
Next, be sure to build a shared understanding that in order to realize that audacious goal, we'll need a new level and type of collaboration – something that harnesses and coordinates the ideas, resources, and work of many diverse participants (e.g. "If we want to make a big difference on this, we can't do it individually. Clearly, the siloed approach isn't going to get us there.").
In terms of the funding concern specifically, we work to shift the frame from "Needers" to "Leaders," that is from "We're grantees and recipients." to "We are critical leaders in this collective effort and we all need to contribute to making it happen, even giving of our own capacity." After all, if the goal really is meaningful and important and relevant to their missions, it really IS the work of these stakeholders to take leadership in achieving it.
In terms of the shared measurement challenge by helping people recognize that measurement is already a shared problem, or should be That is, "Even if we're not using a collective impact approach, we're working on the same issues so if we're not moving in the same direction and working on the same metrics, we already have a problem."
Clearly, the underlying concern here is one of scarcity of funding, so we also work to bring funders directly into these conversations about capacity and resources, so that they also recognize the need for collaboration and the real costs of doing it. So make sure the organizations involved in your initiative adequately price their capacity needs for meaningful participation and programmatic contributions to the initiative and negotiate with funders to cover this.
It also helps to build the case that more diverse actors bringing more diverse perspectives and resources will actually increase capacity, not diminish it. For example, involving relevant business and political leaders can help move funding levers that the groups working on the issue might not have been able to move effectively in the past.
Here are some other tips based on our experience with these challenges:
Try a "spiral approach" to bringing local stakeholders on board by getting a few key influencers on board first, and then working together with them to bring others on board. As you go, keep testing, refining, and bringing forward a stronger and clearer case how do address concerns around funding, capacity, and measurement.
Develop a shared set of "design principles," or things that have to be true as you all proceed with the collective impact approach, and set up a regular way to evaluate these collectively. Then make sure that funding and measurement capacity is on the list!
Focus everyone on HOW to solve these challenges, not IF they can be solved. By putting the how question first, you get people into problem-solving mode, and out of worrying mode.
Finally, lower the bar by asking them to just try it. Trust is often hard for stakeholders to give up front and is better built through taking a risk together to try something and then openly and honestly assessing together how it's working.