January 15, 2016

Collective Impact Collaborations

Creating formal cross-sector partnerships and working together to address a common goal.

Collective impact collaborations are initiatives that aspire to achieve significant, community-wide progress on complex, systemic social issues by enlisting and engaging key sectors to work together toward a common goal. Defining characteristics of collective impact collaborations are:

  • Cross-sector coordination between nonprofits, philanthropists, businesses, and government
  • A shared aim to achieve ambitious and measurable change (i.e., 10 percent improvement or more)
  • Long-term investment by all stakeholders (at least 3–5 years)
  • Substantive constituent engagement and involvement of community members
  • Use of shared, measurable data to inform the agenda, track progress, and make improvements

How it's used

Collective impact collaborations are used to address complex social issues with multifaceted causes, requiring the coordinated actions of multiple actors to achieve lasting, community-wide change. For example, collective impact collaborations have been used to address low college-readiness rates and high teenage pregnancy rates (see case studies). For relevant social issues, collective impact collaborations can refocus, transform, and strengthen the field and its efforts to address the issue by generating alignment and cohesion toward long-term solutions that work.


Getting started on collective impact collaborations is complicated and time consuming, given the complexity of the issues and range of stakeholders involved. Nonetheless, there are four general stages of developing collective impact collaborations:

  1. Identify the opportunity: Begin by taking stock of the issue and players in the field (see: market mapping and landscape analysis). Identify potential stakeholders, including government, businesses, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, and constituent communities.
  2. Lay the foundation and organize: Get organized by enlisting trusted, high-profile leadership to coordinate efforts and engage stakeholders effectively. Dedicate staff time and organizational capacity to coordinate and support communication among stakeholders, analyze data, and provide administrative support. This is typically accomplished by creating a new organization. Cultivate long-term funding directed at the collaboration's efforts.
  3. Set the agenda: Convene key stakeholders—government, nonprofit, philanthropic, constituent, and business—to agree upon a shared vision, an agenda, and the metrics of success. Work with stakeholders to align resources toward interventions that evidence suggests will succeed.
  4. Implement and manage: : Implement action toward shared vision and goals, tracking metrics of success to learn and make improvements over time, with strong coordination from the key leader and supporting organization. Ensure clear channels of communication between all actors.

Related topics

Additional resources

Collective Impact
This article from Foundation Strategy Group (FSG) introduces the term "collective impact" and outlines the core pillars of successful collective impact initiatives.

Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work
A follow up to FSG's article "Collective Impact," this article provides deeper guidance on how to create, manage, and sustain successful collective impact initiatives.

Needle-Moving Community Collaborations: A Promising Approach to Addressing America's Biggest Challenges
Members of the White House Council for Community Solutions and Bridgespan explore the ingredients for success in exemplary collective impact community collaboratives.

Needle-Moving Collective Impact: Three Guides to Creating an Effective Community Collaborative
Building on the White House Council for Community Solutions and Bridgespan's work, this collection of guides—Collaborative Life Stages, Capacity and Structure, and The Next Generation of Community Participation—offers tactical pathways for helping community collaboratives succeed.

Examples and case studies

Needle-Moving Community Collaboratives: Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport
Faced with a growing epidemic of youth leaving high school unprepared for college or careers, stakeholders in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky banded together, led by The Strive Partnership, to increase high-school graduation and college-enrollment rates. Strive's success depended on its shared vision and agenda centered around what works and on using data to inform the agenda and improve over time, supported by the necessary resources and structure.

Needle-Moving Community Collaboratives: Milwaukee
To combat one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, which was incurring huge costs to the community, stakeholders in Milwaukee worked together to lower the teen birth rate by more than 30 percent. The United Way of Greater Milwaukee dedicated capacity to coordinating the efforts, which, combined with organization by effective leaders and community member engagement, has been central to the success of the initiative.

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