As practitioners, advisors and consultants to funders, conveners and conductors of community collaboration, we have observed collaboration and collective impact in communities across the country. From our on-the-ground experience, we have seen it done well, and not so well.
The first of this two-blog series provided several guideposts for how funders can better see the communities they are working in, and how to be more effective in managing their community relationships. This second blog considers how funders can best calibrate their leadership roles for greater success.
Think carefully about your role
Take what you learned about the community and carefully consider the role you should play to move forward on an issue. To quote a neighborhood leader, “Sometimes you are the sage on the stage, sometimes you are the guide on the side.”
Develop your ability to know how and when to be the leader, to bring people along—and to know when you should step back and be a coach, advisor and cheerleader to others. Observe how you are navigating these roles, and building your acumen in shifting those roles depending on how the work progresses.
Pay attention to money’s influence
When and how resources enter the conversation changes how people behave. You have to find resources to cover the time and energy of people coming together to get started. But dangling too many resources can artificially drive pseudo-collaboration. If you lead with too much, too fast, people will collaborate to get access to money.
If the community hadn’t cared about an issue before a foundation said they will spend money, proceed cautiously. Collaboration that follows money is rarely going to work. Collaboration that forms to address an issue can more effectively take advantage of resources, and it has a better chance of sustaining effort. Make sure money is fuel for people already committed to an effort versus using money to ask people to commit.
Create a sense of possibility
Too often, leaders who step up to tackle something complicated hear: “This won’t work, it can’t work. We tried it before. Why bother?”
If a community stays stuck without a sense of possibility, you won’t make progress. When you hear leaders say, “We just have to accept that many kids cannot graduate from high school,” for example, you have to be ready to say, “Really, are we okay with this?”
Use data, information and storytelling to create a sense of possibility and belief. You may sometimes have to be that aspirational, charismatic person to create the possibility. Look for other leaders who are doing great work in isolation, and bring them in to help you create the spirit of potential success. Use stories from other communities and drive a new optimism that overcomes the “stuckness.”
Balance patience with urgency and commitment
As you identify a challenge and engage others to work on it, you may feel a personal sense of urgency to see change. But if you push too hard on a community without resources and capacity, you can stall out before you start. Consider what a community can envision and manage.
Maintain a sense of urgency that there is an important challenge and there is progress. If you don’t maintain that sense of importance and urgency, people will fall away.
It’s also easy to get excited about being a part of starting something new, or working with a dynamic new leader. But what happens after the buzz wears off? Are you going to stick with it? We have to be willing to see long term and keep work moving. With resources and the ability to navigate risk, we can see effort sustained.
The key to pulling this off is to keep your support sustained over time. Be in it for the long haul, and show that the resources and support aren’t going away, even when things falter or the inevitable bumps in the road push things off course for a minute.
Consider your time frame
You might also start to think differently about time. Private sector development efforts often take a 20-year view for neighborhood change. They invest with an eye for that horizon. So, what’s the comparable 20-year strategy perspective for what you what to accomplish? Can you be in it for that long? Think about your time horizons and start with a much longer view at the front. Then, build your work as leader, funder, and convener with that timeline in mind.
Your commitment to remain at the table with community partners through thick and thin is essential to success.
David Moore is President of Moore Strategic Consulting. He has more than 25 year of experience in the nonprofit and education sector, leading organizations, teams and partnerships. He has a track record as an effective leader within nonprofit organizations, as well as a trusted advisor providing strategic leadership, investment strategy design, and leadership development. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeffrey M. Glebocki is Founder & Lead Advisor of Strategy + Action/Philanthropy. He is Foundation Coordinator for the Doll Family Foundation, and has served as executive and senior program staff for several private and family foundations. He is on the faculty of Exponent Philanthropy and a former Exponent Philanthropy board member. His email is email@example.com.