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April 10, 2013 / WRAG

A Voice from Philanthropy: Can a push for collective impact change our region?

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Alone you can go faster, but together we can go further.”
– African proverb

When I talk with my colleagues around the country about the philanthropic work going on in the Greater Washington region, they often seem to be a bit in awe. The foundations in their regions just don’t have the same culture of collaboration that we do here. Maybe that’s because our region doesn’t have a mega-funder like Kellogg in Michigan or Robert Wood Johnson in New Jersey or Heinz in Pittsburgh – but that has actually been a valuable deficit.

Grantmakers in this region have learned to lead together. They convene, share information, pool their funds, and collectively plan interventions. When they do this, we have seen exciting, game-changing results: the successes of the Washington AIDS Partnership, the fast growth of the Partnership for Prince George’s County, and the great potential that lies in the Community Wealth Building (Evergreen) initiative. A few years ago, we also saw the impact of philanthropy when it joined forces with the business, government, and the nonprofit communities to encourage the continued giving of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

But even with these successes, it feels that we’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible. With the cross-sector work in particular, it feels like our joint action only follows crises.

As our region moves forward to address major concerns like disconnected youth, affordable housing, and workforce development, we know that our goal is to comprehensively address situations that are deeply entrenched. No quick fixes. The objectives and strategies must be clearly defined and the plan of action must be embraced broadly by all who can, and should, play a part in solving the problem.

To this end, “collective impact” is the new term of art. In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, John Kania and Mark Kramer write that there are five conditions for collective success:

    • A common agenda;
    • Shared measurement systems;
    • Mutually reinforcing activities;
    • Continuous communication; and
    • A backbone support organization.

Our region’s funders and their partners have already witnessed the successes of this approach. We have the connective tissue between foundations and across sectors. We even have a bit of a common agenda in the slightly dusty Region Forward plan.

Now we have to take the next step.

On April 17th, Jeff Edmondson, Managing Director of Strive, the prototypical collective impact initiative in the country, will be here to talk with our community as part of our Brightest Minds series. Let’s see if his ideas can catalyze us to go even further.

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