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Should SVP Encourage Competition or Collaboration?

Posted by Janet Levinger

should-svp-encourage-competition-or-collaboration.jpgThe way we fund nonprofits encourages competition rather than collaboration and limits our ability to solve large scale problems.  That was the take-home message from the “Collective Impact” webinar I, and several other SVP partners and staff members participated in last Wednesday.  

In the webinar (hosted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review), John Kania and Mark Kramer noted that there is a mismatch between the complexity of social problems and how philanthropy tries to solve them.  Funders look at many different organizations and choose the best one to solve a problem. Grantees work separately and try to differentiate themselves in order to get funding. This model promotes competition instead of collaboration. If the problem is a large-scale one, funders look to replicate or scale up.

They referred to this model as Isolated Impact because government, business, and other stakeholders are not part of the solution, and organizations and funders are working alone.

On the flip side, the goal of Collective Impact is to align the efforts of many organizations including funders, nonprofits, government agencies, and businesses around a common goal. Kania and Kramer identified five conditions for success:

  1. Common Agenda: Success requires that organizations share a vision with a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solutions.
  2. Shared Measurement: Collecting data and measuring results allows efforts to be better aligned and organizations to learn from each other; it also helps keep focus on the problem.
  3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Each organization has a different activity based on its greatest strength but the activities fit into a single plan.
  4. Continuous Communication: Communicating builds trust and keeps organizations working together.
  5. Backbone Organization: Creating and managing collective impact requires a separate organization with staff and a specific set of skills to serve as a backbone for the effort. Because this organization needs to be neutral, often a new organization or a new part of another organization needs to be created.

They gave an example of a successful Collective Impact Initiative done by Strive Partnership in the Cincinnati metro area. (Read Kania and Kramer’s full article.)

In Your Opinion, What Does This Mean for SVP?

Right now SVP does exactly as Kania and Kramer describe – we look for the best organization in a certain area and fund it, promoting competition instead of collaboration.

What’s your reaction to that, and to the case made for collective impact?  Do you think SVP should make changes to encourage collaboration rather than competition among nonprofits? If not, why?  If so, what would you change?

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