What is collective impact?

The term collective impact was coined in 2010 by John Kania and Mark Kramer to highlight the need for establishing a common agenda for solving challenging issues among various sectors.

Collective Impact is the long-term commitment by a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific problem. Their actions are supported by a shared measurement system, mutually reinforcing activities, and ongoing communication and are staffed by an independent backbone organization.”

The concept of collective impact has evolved over the years; however, it has recently gained recognition among those in the nonprofit sector.

Why are nonprofits embracing collective impact?

Unlike for-profit organizations, which exist to generate a profit; nonprofit organizations exist to benefit the greater good of the community. While collective impact is widely adopted by businesses of all kinds,  nonprofits have recently started to embrace the model as an opportunity for growth and to create lasting social change. This is because the collective impact model focuses more on finding solutions for problems that are complex and systemic rather than technical in nature.

Take it from Paul Schmitz, CEO of Public Allies in this Huffington Post article, “collective impact reverses the traditional nonprofit social change process. Traditionally, a nonprofit identifies an isolated need, creates a service for that need, demonstrates results, and scales their service to more people in hopes of creating larger societal change.”

According to Kania and Kramer, if you take a close look at any group of nonprofits that believe they are working on the same social issues, you quickly find that it is often not the same issue at all. The collective impact approach is designed to help resolve these differences by developing a common solution among various constituents. The model is based on the notion that no single organization can tackle or solve major complex social issues alone.

How does collective impact work in the nonprofit sector?

By implementing the 5 elements of collective impact. Sounds pretty easy doesn’t it? Not necessarily. One of the biggest reasons why social issues are not being resolved is because not everyone involved is on-board. For collective impact to work the way it was designed to, all constituents involved must be on the same page.

The 5 Elements of Collective Impact:

Common Agenda

  • Developing a shared vision for change including common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions.

Shared Measurement

  •  Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all participants. This assures alignment and accountability.

Mutually Reinforcing Activities

  • Participant activities are different yet still coordinated through a mutual plan of action.

Continuous Communication

  • Open, consistent communication to build trust, establish mutual objectives and value common motivation.

Backbone Support

  •  A collective impact initiative requires dedicated staff to coordinate the effort.

The collective impact model is like putting together a puzzle. Often organizations have an idea of what they want to accomplish, but have a difficult time starting. Once a plan has been implemented, organizations can work inwards piece by piece to strategically accomplish the desired goal.



Project Rx: A River Remedy is a local example of collective impact. Renewable Water Resources partners with Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, Greenville Family Partnership, Carolina Institute for Community Policing, Greenville County Medical Society, Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Greenville Technical College and  Upstate Forever each year to support the event because they all want to find a solution to the common issue of medications in our waterways.

By incorporating the elements of collective impact to their plan of actions, organizations will acquire the skills and resources needed to work together to find a common ground for solving issues of all kinds. Remember, any organization can cater the collective impact model to fit their specific needs. Whether it’s for-profit or nonprofit organization, collective impact has proven to be a positive approach for solving systemic social issues.