Collective Impact 101

By Lauren Thiesse, MPA

Tulsa County has an abundance of nonprofit organizations and public agencies, each with its own unique mission to support our community. When organizations work together, their missions are able to support one another and their individual successes are amplified. This is called collective impact. 


ImpactTulsa is a collective impact organization that convenes partner organizations and school districts to support students from cradle to career. We identify and measure data points that tell us about successful student outcomes, learn the best ways to achieve those outcomes, and elevate community voice as we problem solve to meet the needs of all students. To sum it up, we measure what matters, identify effective practices, and align resources in the community.


What is collective impact?


Collective Impact is the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem, using a structured form of collaboration. 


Collective impact is more than just collaboration; collaboration happens frequently between organizations working on grants, new programs, and events. The process of collaboration builds momentum, brings in new perspectives to the work, and creates excitement among teams. It can be organic, between co-workers collaborating on an email, or more structured through official contracts and agreements. When partners take collaboration further and work together to achieve community-level outcomes, that is when we work towards collective impact. It requires dedication to a shared outcome and may involve organizations setting aside their individual goals for the benefit of the community. 


The figure below demonstrates a few differences between collaboration and collective impact.


(StriveTogether, 2012)


How does ImpactTulsa work to achieve collective impact? 

There are a few key things that need to be in place in order for a community to successfully achieve collective impact. These initiatives must have a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support (Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2011). ImpactTulsa functions as the backbone support for collective impact in Tulsa; the staff has unique skill sets like facilitation, project management, communication, and community organizing, to coordinate partners and school districts that support students from cradle to career. 


Through activities like Collaborative Action Networks (CANs), continuous learning & improvement, and equity work, ImpactTulsa leads the community towards shared outcomes for students. School districts and organizations have their own goals and definitions of success. When we all strive for a common goal, our efforts are amplified by one another and we reach our goals faster.



(Aspen Community Foundation, 2017)


The image above shows how a collective impact approach can align the powerful individual actions of organizations in a community and focus them towards a common goal to achieve sustainable long term solutions. Coordinated efforts around a shared measurement of this common goal can create sustainable systems that bring partners together to better serve their communities. 


In the summer of 2019, ImpactTulsa facilitated a CAN in which organizations came together with the shared goal of increasing WIC enrollment within the Latinx population in Tulsa. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), is a critical resource for low-income families to get access to health and nutrition resources that support early child development.


The community members shared their concerns about accessing information about WIC enrollment with the network of partner agencies in this CAN. Within this network,  the Tulsa-area organizations provided different types of programs, but they all had the common service of providing referrals for pregnant women. The organizations worked together with the community to align on information that the Latinx population needed to know about enrolling in WIC. They shared resources and spent time together learning about the process of WIC enrollment. 


Together, they learned from the community and adapted their messaging about WIC to include information relevant to the Latinx population. Each person in the CAN provided a unique perspective that moved the work forward. Through this coordinated effort, those organizations now have the information that they need to support the Latinx community in Tulsa with WIC enrollment. 


(Turner, Merchant, Kania, & Martin, n.d.)


Collective impact & COVID-19

With the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, collective impact is more important now than it ever has been. While organizations are focusing on the critical changes that they need to make to their programs in order to serve children and families safely during this time, it is also a time to work towards collective impact. It is important to align on common goals, share resources, and learn from one another. 


ImpactTulsa is facilitating collaborative groups for partners to come together with school districts and share resources, problem solve, and connect to better serve families


These sessions are open to all people serving children and families in Tulsa and are an opportunity to connect around COVID-19 support. 


Thanks to all the dedicated school districts and organizations in Tulsa, we have built a strong collective impact initiative that we can leverage during this time of crisis. Over the past 4 weeks we have engaged over 60 organizations and school districts. We will be continuing to facilitate these meetings every other week. Please see the schedule below and email the contact if you are interested in joining!


Food & Family Resources


  • May 5th 10:00-11:00
  • May 19th 10:00-11:00


Distance Learning


  • May 12th 10:00-11:00
  • May 26th 10:00-11:00




Aspen Community Foundation (2017). Collective impact.


Kania, John & Kramer, Mark (2011). Collective impact.


StriveTogether (2012). The difference between collaboration and collective impact.


Turner, S., Merchant, K., Kania, J., & Martin, E. (n.d.). Understanding the value of backbone organizations. Stanford Social Innovation Review.