Investing in Change: Engaging Stakeholders in Collective Impact

Last month, FSG and GEO cohosted a webinar, “Investing in Change,” exploring the important roles of funders in Collective Impact efforts. The session was moderated by Kathleen Enright, and featured panelists including Emily Tow Jackson, Executive Director of the Tow Foundation; Ken Thompson, Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Pacific Northwest Initiative; and FSG's own Fay Hanleybrown, Managing Director, and leader of FSG’s collective impact approach area.   

The webinar was focused on highlighting funder perspectives on Collective Impact, the range of roles funders can and have played in these efforts, and how the panelists navigated the particular challenges of their respective efforts. It was a lively discussion, joined by over 300 participants from a wide spectrum of organizations – nonprofits, government agencies, foundations, and corporations – who submitted hundreds of thoughtful questions around funder engagement in CI. In this 3-part blog series, we will answer some of the valuable inquiries that we were unable to address due to limited time during the webinar. Today’s blog—the first in a series of 3—focuses on engaging stakeholders in a collective impact effort, including other funders, nonprofits, and the community more broadly.

Community Engagement: What role did your foundation play specifically with regard to community involvement? How has this changed over the course of the effort?

  • Ken:  In the Road Map Project effort, there have been multiple efforts to engage community members directly in the work. Although there is a lot more work to be done in this particular area, we have so far provided support in several different ways:
    • We supported a very early extensive phone poll of parents across the Road Map area (accompanied by focus groups for immigrant communities, done in home languages, for some communities we thought that phone polling would not reach), going directly to parents with kids in the education system to get their impressions of what was working and what wasn’t, and to get their opinions on key education issues.
    • We support a position at the backbone organization specifically dedicated to parent and community engagement.
    • We provided funding for a ‘small grants’ fund, through the backbone, meant to engage and support small community organizations that needed some additional support to start to engage their constituents in issues related to improving education results in the community.
    • Another Program Officer on our team is now specifically tasked with developing a grantmaking portfolio focused on parent and community engagement. She actively participates in the backbone’s workgroup focused on this area, and our intent is to develop our funding strategy based on what the community itself identifies as needed in this area.

Getting Nonprofits to the Table: How do you motivate partners who are not directly being funded to participate and give resources such as staff time, etc. to the collective impact effort? How should grantmakers think about funding “on ramp” or capacity-building work to ensure grantees have adequate capital– human, financial and intellectual–  to invest in collective impact initiatives? 


  • Ken:  We wondered when we started the Road Map work whether this would be an issue: it has not been one to date. This question might be better directed to nonprofit leaders in the community than me, but I think a couple of things worked in our favor:
    • The effort was launched with a lot of high level community support and backing, which helped to create a positive buzz that made many folks want to be involved, if for no other reason, than many others already were. 
    • I think that nonprofit and other leaders saw the clear value case for the work, and we successfully painted a picture of how all kinds of organizations, large and small, would benefit if the Road Map meets its goals. 
  • To the second part of the question, this is a real issue, especially for the non-government entity players. As noted in a prior question, the foundation has provided some small seed grants for very small CBO’s to start to engage in this work; we are also working to build infrastructure for participation in the work in some field-level intermediaries in the community as well. We are fortunate that Seattle has a rich array of private and community funding institutions, several of which are focused on building organizational capacity. While our funding has focused less on building individual organizations’ capacity (vs. field-level capacity), it is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle.

Funder Engagement: We often think about competition among grantees—but funders compete with each other too for credit, innovation, etc. So, how does one funder convince another to "jump on their wagon"? 



  • Emily: It’s very important for the entire group to own a collective impact effort for it to be successful.  For this reason, no one entity can truly take credit for any success beyond the individual role they played and their willingness to let go of the status quo.  That said, these efforts do require investments of both time and money. Someone needs to foot the bill for staff time devoted to the effort and outside facilitators, which were essential to the work in both CT and NY.  My experience has been that it is difficult to find foundations that are willing to fund something that they did not create themselves.  The public partners involved were much more willing to take the lead on investing.  When approaching my funding colleagues in New York, I brought along the state stakeholders who were running the system to assure that there was buy in.  We started by asking for small amounts, which largely came from discretionary funds, and were matching state dollars.  This proved effective – we were able to get funding from six other private foundations – but it was one of the biggest challenges we faced.
  • Ken:  I think when you are tackling a seemingly intractable social problem in a collective impact framework, there is more than enough work, and more than enough glory/credit to go around (if needed).  In the case of the Road Map, even since the very beginning, this was not created as one funder’s effort, and the couple of funders at the table early on did as much as we could to immediately engage all interested funders to engage. There were more than enough places in all the early planning workgroups for all kinds of funders to get involved, and the way it has shaken out is that there are not that many funders who really fund across the entire education/youth/parent support continuum, so most funders work on the particular parts of the continuum that are most aligned with their giving areas.


Stay tuned for the next two blogs in this series, which will focus on the role of evaluation and learning and implementation questions.

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