Kendall Norris is the chief executive officer for Global Leadership Forum (GLF). The forum’s mission is to, with the aid of its partners, inspire young African Americans in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM), as well as help older individuals get the experience in these fields to advance to senior positions.

Nonprofit organizations play a vital role in the maintenance of a healthy community. They have the all-important task of being the catalysts of a concept the Stanford Social Innovation Review has coined as “collective impact.”

Far more than a collaborative effort, collective impact, or the intentional commitment of a group of key change agents to solve a specific social problem, involves a strategic agenda.

Further, it incorporates determined staff, a centralized infrastructure and an agreed upon process understood and shared by all entities involved. On the surface and at its core, collective impact sounds like the definition, motivation, and mission of what nonprofits are—or, at least what they should be.

What has been proven over time is that nonprofits, generally speaking, do not operate this way.

Most choose to operate in their silos serving their target demographic, focusing solely on growing programs and influence within their target demographic. Many nonprofits admittedly do not contribute to broad, systemic, transformative change. Why? The task is virtually impossible for one organization to do by itself.

In order to affect systemic, transformative social change, nonprofits have to be able to mobilize all sectors of society, including government, business, public, and other nonprofit organizations. Put plainly, systemic change requires participation from all of the players in a community.

The impact of the change can then be determined by how the collective mobilizes its forces, who they sit at the table, and how those key players communicate. The only impact partners that can catalyze and effectively implement change are nonprofit organizations, and there’s a simple reason why.

The majority of nonprofits share a common thread throughout their missions: a goal of helping others.

Whether the mission is eradicating poverty, spreading arts and humanities, increasing economic mobility, closing the achievement gap, eliminating the effects of discrimination and racism, or increasing social justice, the ultimate goal is to create a better society. To create systemic change and bring all of the sectors together, the intermediary role must be led by an entity that has altruistic objectives.

Because of the shareholders’ goal to increase financial opportunities, often by any means necessary, the business community cannot lead the charge. And, because the government sector typically relents to granting the most power to those legislators who provide the greatest economic benefit, it can neither lead the collective with motivations dictated by power.

Therefore, it is the nonprofit sector, the one solely motivated by bringing about positive change for everyone in society, that must take and assume its rightful responsibility within a community of transformative change agents.

There are two ways to go about creating solutions to affect the change in social and economic contexts.

One way, which is the way most nonprofits operate today, is to provide point solutions for any one of the aforementioned socio-cultural missions. The other way is to look at problems holistically and bring together groups of organizations that have point solutions.

The difference is, when you bring all point solutions together and affect all points of the spectrum simultaneously, the community can experience transformative change, not incremental change.

This method inevitably makes change and solutions manifest much quicker, and transformative change becomes more sustainable for longer periods of time. Plus, the impacts are broader and affect larger segments of a population at the same time.

As groups come together over time, redundancies will become more apparent, and organizations will begin to minimize service overlaps. This will allow consolidation mergers to happen with organizations that serve the same or similar target demographics and use similar approaches.

That may not sound like a good thing for nonprofit businesses, but it is. Philanthropists and foundations today look to widen and broaden their impact by contributing to nonprofits that demonstrate their ability and willingness to work collectively versus working in silos.

Those organizations that will catch these philanthropists’ eyes will be able to exemplify forward-looking approaches to their work and how they are more focused on the mission of their work, not just the survival of their organization.

This is where many nonprofits today fail. They find early success and then attempt to grow beyond their original mission. They try to become more systemic change agents by themselves. If nonprofits want to prove their effectiveness, increase their efficiency, and become innovative leaders, they have to be a part of a meaningful collective at some point.

Nonprofits are looked to as society’s change agents.

The evolution of the nonprofit sector requires that they collaborate more effectively, not just to create financial efficiencies or to collaborate for the sake of collaboration. In order to increase their standing as leaders in the community and fully leverage their position as intermediaries between public, political and corporate entities, collective impact is an absolute must.

The benefit to all stakeholders is transformative social change.

The potentially catalyzing power that nonprofits naturally have holds a very compelling mandate: if you are altruistic to your mission as an organization, you must accept the mantle of intermediary transformative change agent.

The Global Leadership Forum (GLF) appointed Kendall Norris as its first Chief Executive Officer in August 2017.

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View Comments (1)

Michael JohnsonNovember 19, 2018
3:59 am

Thank you for this informative article! Keep up the great work!

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