10 Questions About Collective Impact

LIFT Orlando, along with other excellent organizations in the city, are using the framework of collective impact to help bring about massive social change in the neighborhoods of West Lakes. By focusing on issues like education, health and wellness, employment, and housing, we’re following in the footsteps of other great collective impact initiatives to change systemic problems.

Frequently, we have the opportunity to discuss topics such as collective impact (you can read a brief intro on collective impact here). Discussing such a significant and broad idea can bring up some very important questions. Here are the ten most common questions we’re asked when discussing collective impact.


1. Is Collective Impact an Organization?:

No. Collective impact is not a group or an organization. Collective impact is a framework used to solve large-scale social issues. It unites cross-sector organizations under a common agenda to solve a specific social problem.


2. Is Collective Impact Just a Fancy Word for Group Collaboration?:

While collaboration is essential to collective impact, this does not mark what collective impact is. Five unique distinctives are found in collective impact that define it. These distinctives are:

  • A Common Agenda: A shared agenda that is developed and galvanized by multiple cross-sector groups.

  • Shared Measurement: A list of shared measurements that empower organizations to be objective in reviewing their results and accountable in their efforts.

  • Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Separate activities that support and are coordinated with the actions of other organizations in the collective impact initiative.

  • Continuous Communication: Consistent, scheduled communication that allows for rigorous honesty, greater trust and an atmosphere of learning.

  • Backbone Organization Support: A separate organization with its own staff that oversees the collective impact initiative, guides the creation of a shared agenda, creates a stream of continuous communication and holds organizations accountable to the measured outcomes which they’ve agreed upon.


3. Does Every Group Get a Say in the Collective Impact Initiative?:

Yes. Collective impact is successful because of their focus on a common agenda. This agenda is forged and formed by all stakeholders in the initiative. This becomes the basis by which all goals are defined. Collective impact initiatives make it paramount to take all perspectives in equally, regardless of an organization’s size or funding power.


4. How is the Backbone Organization Different than the Groups They Oversee?:

A backbone organization, or lead organization, is unique in its operation. It is set up to facilitate the groups working together and hold them accountable to the common agenda the entities have agreed upon. Dedication to accountability and measurable results marks the actions of the backbone organization. They guide the work of the collective impact initiative. This requires obsessive communication, a detailed level of shared measurement and higher accountability to data than that of most traditional nonprofits.


5. Does the Backbone Organization Fund the Initiative?:

No. Backbone organizations do not provide the direct funding that groups receive. Instead, they oversee funding directed towards the problem and hold organizations accountable to a common agenda. The backbone organization facilitates communication amongst multiple groups, keeps the groups focused and puts pressure on all entities to keep the common agenda moving forward.


6. Can Collective Impact be Used on All Social Issues?:

Collective impact is a particular approach that is meant only for complex problems. Complex problems are not well defined, do not have an answer on the front end and no single organization has the resources or the authority to enact a solution. Issues that are well defined, have an answer that can be established in advance and only require one, or a few, organizations to provide a solution do not need to use a framework as comprehensive as collective impact.


7. Is the Backbone Organization at the Center of the Funding Stream?:

No. Ideally, the backbone organization of a collective impact initiative is independently funded. This frees them from competing with nonprofits who are searching for much needed support. While the lead organization may raise funds, they don't compete for the same funds as other nonprofits.


8. Do Collective Impact Initiatives Work Only with Non-Profits?:

No. The best and most desirable collective impact initiatives are made up of for-profit, nonprofit and government entities. This allows for multiple perspectives across sectors.


9. Does the Government Run a Collective Impact Initiative?:

The best collective impact initiatives are run by community-based organizations that have the ability to aggregate philanthropists and philanthropic organizations. Donors, or those who can aggregate funders, can provide the most direct form of accountability to the groups involved. By controlling the pathway of funding philanthropists can bring multiple groups together to build a common agenda and solve problems of a systemic nature.


10. Is Collective Impact a Quick Fix?:

Collective impact takes a long time to organize ideas, identify partners, galvanize a shared agenda and begin making real progress in communities. This cannot be done quickly and requires groups to be committed for the long haul. In some cases, solid results won’t begin appearing for years. While it may not be fast, collective impact initiatives are the most effective way to create holistic, sustainable solutions for complex social problems in communities.



Obviously, this isn’t an easy task and it won’t be done quickly. Monthly, we’ll be investigating the different problems and solutions that are at hand. If you’re interested in learning more about the good things ahead for the historic neighborhoods of West Lakes, sign up for our newsletter. We’re thrilled for the change to come and think you will be too.