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Can Nonprofits Meet the Challenge of Social Change?

Can Nonprofits Meet the Challenge of Social Change?

There is a movement afoot that supports “collective impact” by nonprofits. That is, for agencies serving similar (or the same) target populations, they should consider collaborative planning and actions with government, funders, foundations, to better maximize resources. With trends that predict less government funding and an exponential need for services, proponents of this movement tend to minimize the effectiveness of individual organizations tackling a major social problem.

An excellent example of this approach is the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force that unites the various services that respond to this need. Law enforcement, rescuing agencies and housing agencies all must play an important role in fulfilling the mission. I have written in a past article of the changing nature of governance in nonprofits because of similar opinions about how social change needs can be more effectively handled. And there are other national sources who are expanding on this theme.

UCLA Center for Civil society has collaborated with consultants to espouse the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative. The Stanford Social Innovation Review has an article and movement titled “Collective Impact” which I highly recommend for any agency thinking about the shift.

The thesis of Stanford’s Collective Impact model is that ‘large scale social change comes from better cross-coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations.’ Their article states five conditions of collective success:

• Common agenda – a shared vision of change
• Shared measurement systems – claiming web-based technologies have enabled common systems for reporting performance and for measuring outcomes.
• Mutually reinforcing activities – participants undertake activities for which they are best trained and accountable, but that support and coordinate with the actions of others.
• Continuous communication
• Backbone Support Organization – a separate organization and staff with a specific set of skills that provides the infrastructure  required for the collaboration
to succeed.

I encourage you to be aware of these changing trends even if your organization is thriving. I believe that this knowledge should be part of a strategic planning process to help participants know the reality of what is in the nonprofit universe of thinking.


Adrianne DuMond is a retired executive from 3 Fortune 100 companies who now offers pro bono coaching to nonprofit Executive Directors in Orange County, CA. Her doctorate is in Organizational Development from the University of Southern California. She can be reached at   adriannedumond@yahoo.com

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