Reflections on “Collective Impact” and Missouri’s First Wholly Nonprofit Health Benefits Plan

By: Chris Miller, The Mission Center L3C

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the St. Louis nonprofit community’s annual philanthropic landscape event hosted by The Gateway Center for Giving and The Rome Group. To say the least, I was encouraged by how much resonance the concept of “collective impact” appears to be having with our colleagues throughout the region.

As a former community organizer and, now, founder of a company whose entire purpose it is to catalyze ever increasing levels of collaboration among nonprofits,  the idea of “collective impact” is not just an academic concept…for The Mission Center and clients like The Gateway Center for Giving, it’s a rallying call and professional way of life.

While we here at Missouri’s first for-profit charity see on a daily basis the benefits afforded to organizations by virtue of pooling back-office operations like accounting, human resource and information technology management, no where have we seen a greater illustration of this idea than in the commitment that 60 organizations – representing nearly 900 lives – made to live out the values of collective impact by coming together under The Mission Center banner to join our nonprofit health benefits program.

Looking back at the events that led to The Mission Center’s successful creation of Missouri’s first nonprofit health benefits pool, I think it’s important to note that “collective impact” doesn’t always begin with a fully-fledged strategic plan and a clear outline of exactly what steps will be taken to achieve the ultimate goal. While I’d like to say that our team had a perfectly designed plan for how to accomplish this historic collaboration from the outset, the reality is that it was a much more organic process that took form over the course of the organizing campaign and required constant re-evaluation in light of new developments. More often than not, it’s been my experience that meaningful collective impact begins with tactical considerations, baby-steps and learning from the experience in real-time. In light of that, fear of the unknown – of “getting it right” the first time – should not be held forth as an excuse for inaction.

The key is to do something – anything – to get the ball rolling and begin the process of creating positive collaborative change. The problems facing St. Louis and the country at-large are too big for any one of our organizations to solve alone. Not only is it a moral imperative, but for many organizations, it’s the only way to survive in an era of decreasing resources and increasing need on the part of our clients.

As a great man once said, “Collaborate, or die.”

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