Volume XIII | Issue 2 | Fall 2012
The annual Akse family camping trip has benefitted from the concepts of collective impact.

By working together we maximize results

‘Collective impact’ improves community building and camping

For many years, my family has taken camping trips with several other families. It’s a lot of fun, but it also was a lot of work. The process would start in midwinter, as we struggled to find a date and a place that everyone liked. Each family would then make campsite registrations, develop menus and buy food. Once we settled in at the campground, we built our own campfires, cooked our own meals and washed our own dishes. Each family was putting a lot of individual effort into the planning and execution of each camping trip. There had to be a better way. 

We wanted to expend our energies more efficiently — essentially, get more for less. We wanted our collective work to have the maximum impact.

campsites on the water, plenty of firewood, great food

The process we followed to make that happen is a simple but powerful example of “collective impact,” a concept explored in several articles written recently by nonprofit consulting firm FSG. 

The authors cite five conditions that together create an effective strategy for achieving large-scale social impact: common agenda, continuous communication, mutually reinforcing activities, shared measurements and backbone support. 

The first thing we did was acknowledge that we had a common agenda for creating a great trip: campsites on the water, plenty of firewood, great food, a relaxed pace, recreational opportunities and the chance to spend a few days together in community. 

Then we decided to look for ways to reduce duplication — to mutually reinforce strategies. One member of each family would be the backbone support by serving in an organizing role. Right off the bat we agreed that the main campout for the year would always be over Labor Day weekend, and we would use group email as a planning tool forcontinuous communication.

Each family agreed to plan and prepare a breakfast and a dinner to share with the entire group. This reduced each family’s meal responsibility, significantly increasing relaxation time and reducing food costs — shared measurements. 
Best of all, there was more time to sit around the fire and tell stories. We used every concept of collective impact in our quest for more s’mores. 

Community vitality

Collective impact directly relates to the Ford Institute’s work toward community vitality. To us, community vitality is the large-scale social challenge that most deserves our attention and our resources. Independent efforts, however robust, cannot offer the same impact as the alignment of multiple strategies across organizations, all pointed toward the same goals. In an era of needing to do more with less, collective impact is essential. Strong community leaders working with high-performing organizations are essential — not only to community survival, but to their ability to thrive for generations to come. 

Successful strategies

Economic development, in particular, can benefit from this approach, since successful strategies affect all facets of community life. In this issue of Community Vitality, we see how different strategies look in different areas. Many of them incorporate aspects of collective impact. 

We are now introducing leaders from early Ford Institute Leadership Program communities to the concepts of collective impact through Pathways to Community Vitality, a program designed to help identify strategies and create momentum toward creating vibrant communities.

As I write this article, our annual Labor Day Campout is fast approaching, and we have every confidence that this year’s event will be another memorable gathering. Perhaps we should call it our “collective campout.” 

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