In Judy Peppler’s words, investors should have a “much different role than that of a ‘funder’ who writes a check and sits in the back waiting for a report.” We couldn’t agree more.
We explore this idea in the recent StriveTogether and Grantmakers for Education paper, “The Role of Investors: Lessons Learned on Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact.”
Through quality collective impact work, we need to reimagine ways for community partners to engage and contribute. Each of the lessons detailed in the paper provides perspective around critical – and innovative – ways investors can be woven into the fabric of a community partnership.
But at the beginning, we all must think creatively to use investors’ time, talent and treasure proactively through quality collective impact.
Lesson One: Adopt and Embrace a Different Mindset
Without a doubt, this lesson is fundamentally vital for philanthropists engaged in collective impact on the ground. Leslie Maloney with the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, an education investor and executive committee partner of the StrivePartnership of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, told me that effective engagement really does require a cultural mind shift.
“Investors need to ‘listen’ to understand what the shared agenda is for the community to identify opportunities for investment,” Leslie said. “It is no longer about leading the charge but rather about supporting the charge in strategic and highly-leveraged ways.”
We discovered that investors can adopt and embrace a different mindset by focusing on a few key areas:
Shift from “our” agenda to a shared community agenda and investment
For example, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation made the commitment early in the development of the cradle to career Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky StrivePartnership to house partnership staff, but committed to never chair the partnership. This has been critical to ensure the work reflects the interests of the broader set of community stakeholders. In Norwalk, Connecticut, the Norwalk ACTS partnership helps philanthropic partners, through collaboration in a Funders Network, to shift from a singular program focus to an agreed-upon community outcome focus.
Promote the development of public/private braided funding
Doug Wood, Program Officer with the Ford Foundation, highlighted the need to “tap public resources for sustainability long after private money is gone; this structure also provides a direct conduit for systems and policy change.” A great example of this: the United Way of Salt Lake is pioneering a completely different way for public and private investors to work together through Social Impact Bonds. This groundbreaking work in the education space is focusing private dollars on innovation and public dollars on sustained impact. Perhaps most importantly, it is helping leaders across the country think in news ways about what we can do with the concept of public/private partnerships.
Balance being a good partner and having a point of view
Wynn Rosser of Greater Texas Foundation reflected on this lesson during the Collective Impact Forum’s May 2014 “Catalyzing Large Scale Change: The Funder’s Role in Collective Impact” conference in Aspen, Colorado. ““We need permission to come into communities, to bring these ideas and this way of working, and not come in as the investor that has all of the answers,” he said. “We need to respect the local leaders and the local data, but at the same time, roll up our sleeves.”
Engaging investors in a partnership can be a balancing act; when an investor enters the room, some community partners feel compelled to follow their lead specifically because they hold the key to dollars – the lifeblood of many organizations and initiatives. Conversely, investors can be hesitant to engage in a collective and collaborative way; cognizant of their power to direct or disrupt, they may feel relegated to passive participation at best. To mitigate this tightrope act, one investor eloquently phrased an investor mantra in this way “be at the table, but sit at the back.” When a partnership engages investors in roles beyond fiscal support, investors become woven into the collective thread building cradle to career civic infrastructure.
Watch a video of these and other investor reflections from the Aspen event.
Next week: How investors can help build the connective tissue needed to achieve collective impact.
We all know that funding is critical to driving change in our communities. It is easy to see dollars – public or private – as the lifeblood of any initiative’s sustainability. However, it is also easy to look past the larger role that investors can play in collective impact work. In the end, investors can engage in community-wide action in meaningful ways that transcend the traditional roles that have been defined over time that too often focus on putting resources behind individual programs and services.
The role of the investor in quality collective impact work may be harder to quantify when we get beyond dollars and cents, but is critical to building the roots needed to grow sustainable “civic infrastructure” – the organization of all community resources around
a single vision with focus on measuring and improving results overtime. If investors are intentionally and actively involved in initiatives focused on long-term solutions to complex social problems, we can maximize the value of their philanthropy and change the paradigm on their role in such work.
To explore how this shift could occur and specifically the key roles investors can play in rigorous collective impact partnerships, we collaborated with Grantmakers for Education to create a new paper, “The Role of Investors: Lessons Learned on Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact.”
This paper discusses three key lessons learned from conversations with philanthropists engaged in on-the-ground collective impact initiatives across the country. In summary, we learned that investors can help communities by:
To learn more about each of these lessons and the role investors can play in quality collective impact work, download “The Role of Investors: Lessons Learned on Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact”.
Next week, in part two of this four-part blog series on the role of investors, I will discuss lesson one in more detail and share examples of how cross-sector partnerships benefit as investors embrace a different mindset around collective impact.
We want to hear from you! Do these lessons resonate with your community? Are there other roles investors can play to drive quality collective impact from cradle to career? Leave a comment or tweet us @strivetogether by using #collectiveimpact.
Lessons outlined above and discussed in our new paper were drawn from a panel session StriveTogether and Grantmakers for Education co-hosted at the Collective Impact Forum’s May 2014 “Catalyzing Large Scale Change: The Funder’s Role in Collective Impact” conference in Aspen, Colorado.
During the session, five panelists from the investor community shared their perspectives and experience in working with collective impact. The panel used the StriveTogether Theory of Action – a hypothesis for quality collective impact developed by over 30 communities building cradle-to-career partnerships – to reflect on the role of investors at various stages of development.
At last week’s National Urban League Conference, I joined a panel discussion with four amazing individuals who have dedicated their lives to improving education for children around the country. As I listened to the featured speakers that introduced the session and talked with other panelists, I was blown away by the insight shared, not only by those on stage, but also from the audience. I came away from the experience with many insights, but these three stand out as reminders for each and every day of our work.
1) Listen to understand different perspectives.
Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, introduced Senator Rand Paul to open the session. As part of the introduction he made a clear point that we need to be open to dialogue with others no matter their background or political perspective. He urged everyone to seek to understand through listening in order to better understand and shape one’s own perspective. As we work to join together across sectors and among leaders at all levels, we need to be open to what we can learn from those we may assume see things from a radically different perspective. This is how we learn and how we begin to find new and creative solutions to our most pervasive challenges.
2) Listen to children and youth.
Laysha Ward, President of Community Relations at Target, highlighted an initiative they are supporting to ensure the voices of children and youth are heard. As we work to build civic infrastructure that focuses a community on using data to inform decisions, it is critical we don’t lose sight of these voices. As one of our Cradle to Career Network members reminded us years ago, data without stories means nothing. As a critical piece of that story is the voice of those experiencing our disjointed education system right now.
3) Listen to community voices.
While the comments of the panelists I was fortunate to be with on stage were profound, perhaps the strongest voice came from the audience through the questions they posed. Almost all of them asked about ways to create a safe and nurturing environment where learning can occur in the first place, especially for those who are most often left behind. It can be tempting to focus on the academics – what seems to be at the core of learning. But parents and caregivers are first and foremost focused on ensuring those they love are safe and sound, so they can reach the potential we all should see before us.
As Bernadeia Johnson, Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, noted at the outset of the panel, “We need to focus our energies more on what is needed most for kids and families.” If we listen and make sense of what is around us collectively, we will clearly be in a better position to focus the time, talent, and treasure of our community around what will have the greatest impact on the lives of those we seek to serve.
Panelists from left to right: Bernadeia Johnson, Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools; Patricia Stokes, Urban League of Middle Tennessee CEO; Charles Ogletree, Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard Law School (moderator); Melissa Bradley, Corporation for National and Community Service chief strategy officer; Jeff Edmondson, StriveTogether managing director; and Michael Lomax, United Negro College Fund president and CEO.
In the Blind Melon 90s alternative rock video, “No Rain,” a young tap-dancing girl in a bee suit wanders throughout town looking for someone to appreciate her talents after being laughed off stage. At the end of the video, the lonely girl discovers a field full of other people dancing in bee suits – she finally found like-minded people who shared her passion!
At least week’s StriveTogether Expert Convening in Salt Lake City, Nate Waas Shull of the All Hands Raised partnership in Multnomah County, Oregon said he felt “like the girl in the bee suit” from that video. By being in a room with representatives from other expert cradle to career communities, he knew he had found like-minded people who shared the same passion: achieving better outcomes for kids by building civic infrastructure.
“We have a field,” Nate said. “There is a field emerging for this work!”
While Nate’s reflection gave us all a big laugh, it keyed in on a larger theme for the Expert Convening: We have a growing body of knowledge for how to actually achieve the eloquent and powerful concept now known as collective impact that is indeed very different than collaboration (Read more: The Difference between Collaboration and Collective Impact). And more importantly, we need to create opportunities for the practitioners in the field to come together with their peers – just like the girl in the bee suit – to enjoy the company of like-minded individuals, as well as to capture and codify knowledge as much as possible. This is what it will take to ensure we don’t revert to the status quo: tinkering around the edges rather than changing what we do every day to get better results.
The main goal of this particular gathering was to dig into the adaptive and technical processes involved with planning and implementing action that improves academic outcomes on the ground. This is a key area where we see partnerships getting stuck as they work their way through the Theory of Action. During intensive working sessions, attendees mapped out answers to the following key questions:
While the output of these discussions will help shape tools that will benefit many communities across the Cradle to Career Network, observing these six partnerships working together highlighted the potential for broader impact. We are in the midst of a powerful movement connecting communities across our country on a common mission and methodology. Each community may have its own goals and actions, but the Network is focused on one thing – engaging communities in new and innovative ways to support the success of every child, every step of the way.
“Think about the magnitude of what we are really doing,” Todd Williams, of the Commit! Partnership in Dallas County, Texas, said during the convening. “You get a sense of how powerful this can be.”
The shared knowledge and commitment to quality collective impact across the entire network is core to this movement. We commit to making sure we do everything we can to help communities doing this work in a deep and meaningful way to connect and learn from each other. I hope you will join us in this movement to increase our impact together!
Read reflections and commentary shared on Twitter during the Expert Convening at https://storify.com/StriveTogether/action-that-moves-outcomes.
The Bridge to Success Community Partnership (BTS) in Waterbury, Connecticut, has been recognized with a unique quality designation from StriveTogether. BTS is one of only 49 communities in the StriveTogether nationwide cradle to career network.
“StriveTogether network evaluators were impressed with the level of community engagement in Waterbury,” KnowledgeWorks CEO Judy Peppler said. “Bridge to Success’ active collaborative action workgroups bring together like-minded and passionate public and private partners, parents and caregivers to improve the lives of Waterbury’s children. We are excited to welcome them as one of the 49 StriveTogether community partners.”
Part of what is making BPS successful is the dedication of the involved partners. Nearly 100 organizations are working together to prepare the youth of Waterbury for success from cradle to career.
The Partnership celebrated the recent designation at a press conference yesterday, where Peppler welcomed through group into the Cradle to Career network. Waterbury’s mayor, Neil M. O’Leary, as well as several other civic leaders were present to laud the current and future successes of BPS.
I’m writing this post in the midst of StriveTogether’s first-ever Expert Convening, a unique event that is bringing together six of the most advanced cradle to career network partnerships to discuss ways they are using data to drive action to improve student outcomes. Yesterday, day one of the two-day event, was jam-packed with interactive working sessions and in-depth discussions with attendees. Our discussions centered around how these communities are driving change through community-wide collaborative action. We learned about some exciting successes:
We are honored to be here in the same room with these collective impact experts. The amount of knowledge and hands-on experience together here in Salt Lake City equals some amazing cradle to career brain power!
We are fortunate to also have representatives from United Way of Salt Lake, a partnership currently exploring ways to improve education outcomes locally through collective impact, here with us to help the group reflect and identify key outputs from our discussion.
One of my key takeaways from day one is the importance of the Cradle to Career Network in bringing together the communities leading the work on the ground. This is really hard work. It takes patience. It takes humility. This event is providing these collective impact leaders an opportunity to connect and build a sense of camaraderie over shared experiences. It was really inspiring to see the partnerships interact with one another, challenge each other and learn from one another while co-creating knowledge that can help other partnerships.
Thank you to all of our experts who took the time to be here this week in Salt Lake! The brain power harnessed through this event is providing invaluable insight that will help shape StriveTogether tools and resources for the entire network of cradle to career communities.
I had the pleasure of being a part of the launch of the Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) baseline report card – called the Preface – just recently. It was incredibly motivating! A huge audience of local partners across sectors of Spartanburg County, SC came together as former Secretary of Education Richard Reilly opened the event. The Secretary spoke about the power of bringing community partners together in a purposeful way to improve outcomes for kids, the core of what the Spartanburg Academic Movement is all about. In many ways, the Secretary’s efforts while in office of promoting the concept of community learning centers laid the foundation for collective impact; encouraging meaningful partnerships among in-school and out-of-school partners working around the common goal of improving student outcomes.
The intense energy and focus of the community on stopping “spray and pray” was apparent throughout the launch event. The Spartanburg County region is one of the largest economic engines in the country with a host of businesses, big and small, that contribute to our national GDP. It was clear throughout the day, that the business sector in particular realized the value they can bring to collective impact efforts – not just to drive dollars toward what works, but to contribute the intellectual capacity needed to help social sector leaders use data more effectively to get results for kids.
Spartanburg Academic Movement is the cradle to career partnership located in the Upstate region of South Carolina that was created to address the academic needs of Spartanburg County. Sparked by a change in the local economy, moving from a base in textile mills to one that is more knowledge-based, community leaders were charged with exploring the connection between economic development and education and discovered a major lag in college degree attainment in Spartanburg County as compared with the nation and state. You can learn more about this exciting partnership by visiting their website: www.learnwithsam.org.
We expect to see great things from SAM in the years to come as they begin to write new chapters beyond just the preface for how they can better serve every child, every step of the way, cradle to career.
StriveTogether is pleased to announce the launch of the Building the Backbone Toolkit. This toolkit follows our shift in thinking about how partnerships are built and how they may evolve as the work of the partnership becomes more about data-driven action and less about building infrastructure. The shift was first highlighted in a previous blog post, where Jeff Edmonson, noted “This has led us to the conclusion that what is likely needed is a ‘backbone function’ not a ‘backbone organization.’ This may simply sound like semantics, but it leads to a completely different way to approaching the staffing of collective impact work. This shift helps us to see that this work is not about a central power center that gets created in a traditional hierarchical paradigm, but instead is about a set of shared roles that need to be played as we look to connect the dots instead of recreate the wheel.”
The backbone of a partnership is not one single entity, but a function, in which various partners, organizations, or committees can play a role in fulfilling. Viewing the ‘backbone’ as a function rather than an entity, allows more flexibility in the way a specific community supports the operational work of a partnership, building on the individual and unique assets of a community. These functions are the essential on-going roles related to sustaining the infrastructure of a cradle to career partnership, including: the fiscal agent, housing the partnership, staffing, engaging partners & community, communication, fundraising & development, data support, convene networks, and advocacy & policy change.
It is also important to note that not all of the backbone functions have to be filled in the formative stages of the partnership. As the work of the partnership evolves and matures, the functions of the backbone will also evolve.
The structure of a partnership’s backbone will depend on the context of the community, but generally the partnership will fall on a spectrum, with a single organization fulfilling most or all of the roles at one end (centralized backbone) to a structure where many different partner organizations, initiatives, or committees fulfill the roles at the opposing end (blended backbone).
The backbone structure is not set in stone and tends to move toward on end of the spectrum or the other as the partnership and partners evolve.
Partnerships with a backbone structure that falls more towards the centralized backbone end of the spectrum will have one organization, usually the anchor entity, which plays most of the backbone functions. A wide range of organizations can play host to a partnership including, but not limited to: the United Way, community foundations, universities, or community-based organizations.
Partnerships whose backbone structure falls on the opposite end of the spectrum have more of a blended backbone structure, where multiple organizations take on the various backbone functions, creating a comprehensive backbone to fulfill the needs of the partnership. Within this structure, there may be a lead organization (usually the anchor entity), but the backbone functions are much more widely distributed than the centralized backbone.
As the work of the partnership evolves, so should the backbone structure. Often, in the early stages, one or two partners will step-up and drive the work forward by taking on many of the more operational backbone functions and form a partnership that falls more toward the centralized backbone end of the structure spectrum. However, as the work expands and becomes more complex, the functions of the backbone should also expand and may include partners who have more expertise, interest, or capacity to fulfill the new functions.
As partnerships evolve, so does our knowledge around how partnerships are formed, sustained, and implement action to move outcomes. Where on the backbone structure spectrum does your partnership land? What partners were engaged in building your partnership and how has this changed? We love to hear your feedback.
Exploring Communities can find the Building the Backbone toolkit in the Exploring Communities Resource Room and Network members can find it on the StriveTogether Partner Portal.