Your Dollars at Work
Working together: New Focus on Collective Impact
Making a meaningful impact on our community – in education, health or economic opportunity – will require all of us coming together and working toward the same goal, said Mark R. Graham, President and CEO of the Tulsa Area United Way.
“To make large-scale social change, all of us – funders, service agencies and community leaders – must work together, sharing the same goals, data and measures of success,” Graham said.
That’s why the Tulsa Area United Way is placing increased focus on a new social change model known as collective impact – multiple organizations working closely together to make a difference.
To that end, in the past few years TAUW began investing in collaborative initiatives in addition to annual investments in its 61 partner agencies, emergency funding and innovative venture projects.
“Annual investments will always be part of our model, to sustain our partner agencies and their expert work,” Graham said. “But collaborating with other organizations, and encouraging our partner agencies to do so, will increasingly become part of our mode of operation.”
The Tulsa Area United Way has invested in several collaborative initiatives in recent years, including projects to reduce the homeless population, prevent teen pregnancy, and promote the study of math and science in public schools. In addition, a variety of venture grants have been awarded to area organizations that are adopting creative, innovative approaches to systemic community problems.
“In many ways, our partner agencies have been working together for years to address social problems,” said Kathy Seibold, Vice President for Community Investments. “We’re encouraging our agencies to form even closer alliances focused both on achieving quicker results as well as making lasting long-term change.”
To help, the local United Way is strengthening data collection, scanning the local environment and determining areas in which multiple agencies can work together.
“These collaborative initiatives may involve our partner agencies, other non-profit organizations not funded by the United Way, and foundations, as well as the private sector,” she said.
The non-profit sector has often utilized an approach Seibold refers to as “isolated impact,” in which individual agencies tackle social problems independently. Many funders also provide grants to single agencies to focus on a single issue.
“No single social problem has one cause just as no single organization can solve that problem alone in today’s increasingly complex and interdependent world,” Siebold said.
Five conditions of collective success include: adopting a common agenda, sharing the same measurement systems, coordinating responses to make progress, engaging in continuous communication, and forming a backbone organization to drive the entire initiative, according to John Kania and Mark Kramer in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
“I believe the United Way is ideally situated to serve as a community convener, if you will, determining the greatest needs in our community and mobilizing alliances to respond in a collective manner,” Graham said.
For successful examples of collective impact nationwide, see the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
An example of a new collaborative initiative is IMPACT! Tulsa, an alliance seeking to improve local educational outcomes from “cradle to career.” IMPACT! Tulsa is based on the national Strive initiative, which has moved the needle in schools across the U.S., significantly increasing high school graduation rates, fourth grade reading and math scores, and the number of preschool children prepared for kindergarten. Impact Tulsa is being led by former Tulsa Mayor and Oklahoma Education Secretary Kathy Taylor, and involves a wide variety of community organizations, including public schools, social service agencies and the Tulsa Area United Way.