The Stanford Social Innovation Review recently published a two-part blog post about the effectiveness of backbone organizations, to what extent backbone organizations contribute to improved social outcomes, how success is best measured for backbone organizations and what common challenges and best practices can be shared across backbone organizations. The collaboration between the Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) and FSG shared their experience to help funders see backbone support as a strategy to advance collective impact initiative.
“We hope to build a common language and understanding for the role and value of backbone organizations so that all partners in a collective impact effort can articulate the need for and the importance of this vital element, and ensure the overall success of an initiative.”
Understanding the work of a backbone organization can be somewhat complex to understand, especially since most of the work backbone organizations do is behind the scenes. The common theme between all backbone organizations is that each organization works to improve social outcomes by aligning cross-sector groups of community leaders, businesses and community members to collaboratively work together to improve the overall quality of life.
Backbone organizations follow six common activities to support and facilitate collective impat which distinguish this wrok from other types of collaborative efforts. Over the lifecycle of an initiative, backbone organizations:
1. Guide vision and strategy
2. Support aligned activities
3. Establish shared measurements practice
4. Build public will
5. Advance policy
6. Mobilize funding
The backbone organization has a flow of activities that change during the progress of an initiative. As the initiative is getting started, backbone organizations guide vision and strategy and supporting aligned activities. After the backbone organization has existed and the initiative is off the ground and running, the organization will focus on established shared measurement practices on behalf of their collected impact partners. Finally, as the backbone organization looks to expand their impact and increase their community presence, the organization will focus on building public will, advancing policy and mobilizing funding.