As collective impact takes off across the nation, there are multiple guides to establishing a successful venture. Yet because the field is so new, there is less information about how to keep these collaborative efforts going and the management strong after start up.

Saphira Baker of Communitas Consulting recently sat down with Kelly King Horne, Executive Director of Homeward, to reflect on what gives collaborations staying power after the first few years.

Homeward, a planning and coordinating entity addressing homelessness in Greater Richmond, Virginia, has worked collaboratively with over 30 public and private agencies for more than a decade. Collectively, this coalition has helped reduce rates of homelessness by almost 30% since 2009. This year, Communitas Consulting joined with Homeward and a community-wide planning committee to create The Road Home, a step-by-step plan aimed at further focusing efforts to end homelessness and promote housing stability.

What works?

Horne and Baker identified six elements as contributing to improved conditions over time.

  • Focusing work group meetings on achieving results that groups can only accomplish together (such as reducing veteran homelessness by 12% in 2014). When work group members see collective action as critical to getting things done, they are motivated to stay involved;
  • Utilizing data to identify which populations and organizations to approach as barriers emerge (such as better understanding and meeting the needs of individuals who have been previously incarcerated);
  • Focusing on the original intent to end homelessness without getting diverted or expanding the mission;
  • Building relationships with innovative private funders who support both system building and direct services;
  • Aligning work group structures with other essential coordination and funding efforts (such as the managing the Continuum of Care framework, required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) to leverage and target available resources where they are needed most; and
  • Developing a deep bench of leadershipwithin the work groups and participating organizations so that the coalition can weather changes in personnel and continue to advance the mission.

Like nonprofit organizations themselves, coalitions need to stay fresh, focused, and close to the people they serve. They need to create a lean and nimble infrastructure that can respond to emerging needs that call for immediate action. These strategies accelerate change and achieve what collective impact is intended to do: accomplish more together than any one agency or individual can do alone.

 

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