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Investing in Change Webinar Recap

The question of how funders engage in Collective Impact (CI) efforts was top of mind for many during last week’s webinar on Investing in Change: Funding Collective Impact Efforts, which was co-hosted by FSG and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO). Kathleen Enright, Executive Director of GEO, moderated an insightful discussion with panelists 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.

Questions poured in from the more than 300 audience members as the panelists shared the challenges, mindset and cultural shifts, and, ultimately, the rewards they were able to realize through their respective collective impact journeys. Ken Thompson offered a unique perspective on the internal challenges of pursuing collective impact, noting that "Collective impact requires us to think differently about our jobs as Program Officers and directors of programs. It requires us to say, ‘We are not going to sit back and tell people what to do. We are going to be a member of a large group.’ Clearly funders also have been working for 20-30 years to improve education and that hasn’t happened so we need to look at ourselves in our own practice and see how to do things differently. That’s a culture change.”

In describing her experience with catalyzing a highly successful collective impact effort around juvenile justice reform in New York State, Emily Tow Jackson reflected on the important leveraging roles that local funders can play in these efforts, highlighting “We’ve had some very successful collaboratives and collective impact efforts with national funders that value our on the ground knowledge. That builds confidence for them to come in with larger amounts of funding. That’s been a great leveraging tool for being a local or regional foundation.” Her points resonated particularly well among smaller and place-based funders in the audience, many of whom were either interested in pursuing CI efforts, or had already started on the path toward implementation.

Kathleen closed the conversation by asking the panelists for advice for other funders interested in or currently pursing collective impact efforts, and the panelists responded with compelling calls to action:

  • Emily: “As a small funder we are always looking for leveraging opportunities. We are going to need colleagues and partners to help us. Collective impact allows us to play a meaningful role beyond just providing the money—we can use our tools of convening, facilitating, and collaborating with those organizations that can do the heavy lifting. I would suggest for small foundations to set aside a small part of their budget to try an effort like this.”
  • Ken: “Don’t back away from setting an ambitious goal. Set big goals. It’s really been a motivating factor in this particular community to get people to the table and think differently.”
  • Fay: “I encourage funders to think about issues that they are working on that are ripe for this approach. Complex problems, need for multiple stakeholders to come together, where traditional grantmaking approach is realistically not going to get them to the results they want. These are ripe for considering a more collaborative, collective impact approach. And also consider the important roles that funders can play. It’s not for everyone, but because of the long-term resources that funders have, their convening power, and their ability to be nimble, funders have a unique role in this.”

The discussion raised many thought-provoking questions that the panelists look forward to answering—around topics such as measuring progress, navigating competition among nonprofits and even among funders, how to get stakeholders to the table, and community engagement. Stay tuned as these and other burning questions are addressed by our panelists in a series of upcoming blog posts.

Emily Malenfant

Former Chief Administrative Officer, FSG