If You Want to Understand the Value of Backbone Organizations – Read On!

Earlier this year, FSG began working with the Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) and six backbone organizations in the region that recently received multi-year operating grants from GCF. (For more about our work in Cincinnati, please see our April post.) Across six collective impact initiatives, they are addressing the region’s needs in education, early childhood development, community development, economic development, and workforce development.  It has been a great learning experience for our team and for our working group in Cincinnati – and we are excited to now be able to share what we have learned with the field!

In a four-part blog series published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review last week, FSG and our colleagues at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation describe our partnership in greater detail. We discuss GCF’s motivations as a funder  of backbone organizations and collective impact, how we define the work of backbone organizations, what their stakeholders told us about their value, and what we’re doing next to further the work in Cincinnati and beyond.

As we’ve heard from numerous practitioners, funders, and fans of collective impact, many out there are eager to learn more about what “backbone support” looks like. GCF has invested in defining and explaining this role, so that, ultimately, these six backbone organizations in the greater Cincinnati region – and now others engaged in collective impact – can continue to attract support, better serve their partners, and sustain their respective collective impact initiatives. FSG has been fortunate to serve as a thought partner and evaluator in this work.

Before sending you off to read more in our SSIR blog series, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the important work of the backbone organizations we’ve come to know in Cincinnati. We’ve been very fortunate to work with an incredibly talented and thoughtful group. The backbone leader is a unique creature – one who thrives when pursuing seemingly impossible goals, often without acknowledgement. Yet in many ways, they are making it happen, all the while with humility and unwavering persistence.

If you find yourself working with or funding a backbone organization, consider what your world would be like without them. Ask yourself, as we asked community leaders in Cincinnati, “If not for this backbone organization, where would you be?” And share your answer, so that you and your colleagues better understand the value of your backbone organization, as the greater Cincinnati community is beginning to understand.

I hope you’ll read more by following the above links and provide comments that help us understand where we need to continue building knowledge and capacity in the field. Specifically, we are looking for your feedback on the following questions:

  • If you consider yourself a backbone organization, does our articulation of the backbone role resonate?
  • If you’re a collective impact partner or direct service provider, do you see value in the backbone activities we’ve outlined?
  • If you’re a funder of a backbone organization, does our story help to give you more confidence in investing in backbone organizations?

We look forward to hearing from you.


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