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Collective Impact Lessons for Philanthropy

Funders are critical actors in collective impact efforts, and their contributions stretch well beyond financial resources. Other valuable assets that philanthropists can leverage include their convening power, their ability to play the role of an influential champion, and lending their knowledge and expertise. Some of the key lessons for philanthropic funders that we have learned through this work include:

Focus on the overall issue, not just on supporting individual grantees. Moving from investing in individual grantees to a more systemic, problem-focused orientation can be a major shift for funders.

Build the capacity and infrastructure for multiple organizations to work together, in addition to building the capacity of individual organizations. This can include convening, as well as investing in backbone capacity and shared measurement systems, and developing systems maps.

Co-create and be adaptable. Seize opportunities as they emerge, without being overly prescriptive. When engaging in collective impact, funders need to be mindful of the power dynamics that come along with their role. It isn’t appropriate for a funder to dictate the agenda of an entire initiative. Engagement in a collective impact effort may require the funder to adapt their own goals or approaches based on the priorities identified by the group.

Invest for the long term. System-level change does not happen on a grant cycle timeline. Be prepared to make long term investments, and to measure progress in terms of process and systems changes in addition to ultimate outcomes.

We believe that collective impact is one of the most critical approaches to solving complex social and environmental problems facing societies across the globe. Complex problems cannot be solved by individual actors, and we’re excited about the potential for those willing to embrace the collective impact approach.

This post was adapted from content that originally appeared on Generosity, a magazine that provides insight and inspiration for philanthropic funders at all levels. 

Fay Hanleybrown

Managing Director

Jennifer Splansky Juster

Executive Director Collective Impact Forum