Organizations do not collaborate. People collaborate based on common purpose, relationships and trust.

This is the second blog in my series on the four components of effective collective impact.

The four components are:

  • 1) Community engagement and co-production;
  • 2) Relationships and trust;
  • 3) Results and accountability; and
  • 4) A clear, common purpose.

The Four Components of Effective Collective Impact

The second component for effective collective impact is Relationships and Trust. To achieve the results we are striving for, it takes funders, organizations and, as I discussed in my first blog, the people we serve all working together. It’s the intersection of the collective actions of funders, participating organizations and the people we serve that is the locus for true effective collective impact.

Relationships and Trust Building Graphic from Dan Duncan

This graphic illustrates why relationships and trust building are so important to effective collective impact.

Strong collaborations are based on the trust that comes from building authentic relationships. These relationships cannot be legislated or mandated from the top. To build relationships, we must be clear that organizations do not collaborate; people collaborate based on common purpose. Therefore, one of the primary roles of a backbone organization is to ensure that there is an initiative-wide agreement on the common purpose of the effort (the subject of the fourth blog in this series). Additionally, a backbone must provide opportunities for the participating organizations’ staff and volunteers to interact at every level. For some, taking time to build relationships and trust might seem superfluous. However, it is a critical component of collective impact. Opportunities for relationship building should be incorporated into all meetings and reinforced as an important “fundable” activity.

Relationships Among Organizational Partners

Relationship building is not just the work of the early formation phase of a new collective impact initiative. It is something that needs to be integrated and supported throughout the entire process to ensure organizations maintain trust, even through periods of turnover.

When key people change, assume the partnership re-sets to zero. Therefore we must always be focused on building relationships and trust.

Organizations may have a long history of working together and collaborating, but when key players leave, the partnership has the potential of re-setting to zero.
For example, one of your staff members reports that a partner that has been providing your nonprofit’s clients priority access to their parent education classes has decided to no longer provide that access. You call your counterpart at the nonprofit and discover that the person you had the relationship with and built the strong partnership with has left the nonprofit and the new person did not see the value to their nonprofit of continuing the arraignment. We need to always focus on relationship building and not just assume that organizations will always work together at the level needed.

Relationships Between Funders and the Organizations They Fund

As a long-time funder with United Way, I learned that to be truly effective we needed to change our relationship with the nonprofits we funded from a “top-down” Grantor-Grantee model to a partnership model, with both sides bringing value to the table. By working together as partners and building the relationships and trust necessary to truly be effective, our funding decisions transformed from meeting nonprofit needs to creating the community partnerships necessary to achieve real impact and results. By making this shift, the nonprofits we funded became true partners around the table.

Relationships with the People We Serve

Finally, engaging the people we serve in a collective impact initiative as co-producers is critical to the success of the effort. We cannot do it without them. To engage the people being served as co-producers, we need to build the same level of relationships and trust with them. We must treat the people we serve as experts in their own life with gifts to bring to the table for their own and their community’s well-being. As part of this effort, we must work with the people we serve to identify the intersections of our work with their hopes and dreams. Understanding these intersections can help us collectively determine how we can work together to achieve those dreams.

From my experience, taking the time to build relationships and trust at all levels is critical component of effective collective action and impact.