Oct 18, 2011 • By

Coming together for greater impact

I attended an impressive convening of Minneapolis-area nonprofits, government agencies and foundations recently. United Front 2011 was hosted by Greater Twin Cities United Way and supported by the General Mills Foundation with media partner Minnesota Public Radio. Its goal was to facilitate ongoing dialogue among health and human services organizations in our community.

The conference was mobilized around the idea of “collective impact.”

Conference attendees were challenged to think about how leaders from multiple organizations and multiple sectors can come together to make a greater impact on the large social issues facing our local area.

The conference began with a rallying call from Greater Twin Cities United Way President and CEO Sarah Caruso: “This is our time. Through partnerships, we can fortify our community.”

General Mills Foundation Executive Director Ellen Luger echoed the call to action, encouraging attendees to embrace change and consider new and innovative ways to operate in today’s economy.

You can see video of the remarks by Caruso and Luger on the United Front website.

The day’s keynote was presented by Mark Kramer, author and founder of FSG, a nonprofit consulting firm. Kramer unpacked what it means to have “collective impact.”

“We’re used to thinking about a crisis as being short-term,” said Kramer. “Our initial response is to work harder, but doing more of what we’re already doing isn’t going to work.”

Hearing earlier in the day about the sobering economic situation facing Minnesota and the rest of the country, Kramer’s message seemed particularly urgent.

Kramer called for a change in mindset. He said, “It’s not about solving a technical problem; it’s about working together to make each other more effective.”

To work together successfully, he outlined five key conditions:

  • Common Agenda – Organizations must identify a common agenda with a shared vision and a single goal. This includes a common understanding of the problem you’re seeking to solve.
  • Shared Metrics – All parties must agree on a shared measurement system.
  • Mutually Reinforcing Activities – Different players may address different parts of the puzzle, but they must fit into a cohesive whole.
  • Continuous Communication – This includes regular meetings either virtually or inperson.
  • Backbone Organization – There must be an organization that provides the backbone (infrastructure) of support to the initiative—coordinating the effort, developing and implementing measurement systems, driving the continuous communication, and reporting out.

One recent example of successful collective impact here at General Mills is Hunger-Free Minnesota, an unprecedented statewide effort by Minnesota corporations and community partners launched earlier this year dedicated to alleviating hunger.

Hunger-Free Minnesota is a three-year initiative with the goal of sustainably adding 100 million meals annually for hungry children and adults in the state. General Mills helped lead the effort by pledging $1 million in financial support. Knowing that hunger in Minnesota has doubled in the last five years, General Mills knew it was imperative to find common ground with other local corporations and community partners to find innovative ways to tackle this complex issue.

How is your organization approaching collaboration and collective impact to solve social issues in your community?

Editor’s note: You can watch video of Mark Kramer’s keynote and view his presentation on the United Front website.