Collective Impact in Emergency Response: A Case Study of Milwaukee’s COVID-19 Civic Response Team

Milwaukee’s COVID-19 response has been a remarkable mobilization of resources and organizations to address needs for shelter, food, testing, internet connection, and more. Necessity has forced such collective efforts in many cities, but Milwaukee’s may be unique in the civic architecture that has been built and that may be sustained beyond the crisis.

The experience of Milwaukee’s Civic Response provides a window into a city’s comprehensive response to the COVID-19 crisis that also offers six lessons for how collective impacts can be most effective in both meeting emergency needs and pursuing systems changes.

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Funding the Long Game in Collective Impact

One of the challenges many collective impact efforts face is having the financial support over a long enough period to make real progress on their stated results.

The Advancing Healthier Wisconsin Endowment at the Medical College of Wisconsin has developed a promising model that made substantial eight-year-long investments in ten collective impact efforts coupled with extensive technical and capacity-building support. At a time when many backbones are still seeking one to three-year grants to move population level results that will take much longer, the AHW story is a promising approach to philanthropic support and partnership.

This paper is a case study on the experience and lessons of this promising grant program, and a call for more funders to consider longer, larger, more engaged partnerships with collective impact backbones.

You can also view a recorded webinar here with Christina Ellis and Tim Meister from the Endowment along with other materials on the partnership.

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Exploring Historical Trauma in Native American Communities

Many of us who work in the social sector do not know enough about Native populations, history, and historical trauma, and can learn from their efforts to use culture as solution to social problems and force for community building. This essay shares some lessons from my time working with and recently visiting the Lac du Flambeau in Northern Wisconsin.

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Top-down, Meet Bottom Up (Elite Power, New Power, and Sharing Power)

Social change often requires top-down and bottom-up to work together. To do this, we need to encourage and develop leadership in communities, and encourage those with power and privilege to share and give up power – to practice equity. This essay reviews two recent books, Anand Giridharadas’s Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World and Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans’s New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World and How to Make It Work for You, and offers tips for how leaders can be more equitable in their work for community and social change.

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Making Meetings Work: Designing to energize not bore

One of the things I’ve worked with several collective impact efforts to improve is meetings. If you are trying to stimulate inclusion, collaboration, action, and accountability, design meetings to achieve that. Doing so can help meetings accelerate results rather than linger in boredom.

This essay shares 5 lessons with links to appendices with sample tools:

  1. Clarity about roles and expectations of members;
  2. Attention to room design, composition of the group, and seating;
  3. More effective facilitation;
  4. More effective meeting design: (a) clear purpose and results for each meeting; (b) curate what participants need to know, not what staff/chairs want participants to know; (c) engage the full brain power – perspectives, expertise, experience – of the room; (d) Manage time effectively and efficiently; and (e) ensure commitments are fulfilled and people are held and hold each other accountable;
  5. A clear process to prepare, debrief, evaluate, and follow up on each meeting.
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Trump’s Immigration Ignorance

Donald Trump’s immigration agenda rejects both our American history and values. In this essay, I share America’s immigration history and the nuances of our current situation to demonstrate how President Trump’s divisive immigration rhetoric and actions will make us less safe and less American. The essay borrows heavily from Tyler Anbinder’s amazing and engrossing book, City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York.

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Our Hope: The Obama Generation

I am grateful my children grew up during the Presidency of Barack Obama. He taught our younger generations to dream big, to get involved, and to practice the leadership values he practiced every day. In this essay, I lay out those values and why I’m optimistic our young people will embrace them, reject the leadership style of President-elect Trump, and become the leaders who will help us bend the arc of history back toward justice.

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Travel in a Changing Cuba

Entering a Communist totalitarian state, I expected more militaristic security personnel at the airport. Instead, we were warmly welcomed to Cuba by the female immigration and security agents wearing uniforms that included shorts and patterned fishnet stockings. It was the first of many surprises, mostly pleasant surprises, we experienced in Cuba. We hope the imminent growth of American trade and tourism doesn’t turn Cuba into another homogenous tourist zone, and benefits the Cuban people more than the tourists.This essay is a companion to my blog of tips and reviews from our April 2016 visit.


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Community Engagement Matters (Now More Than Ever)

Data-driven and evidence-based practices present new opportunities for public and social sector leaders to increase impact while reducing inefficiency. But in adopting such approaches, leaders must avoid the temptation to act in a top-down manner. Instead, they should design and implement programs in ways that engage community members directly in the work of social change. (currently behind subscription paywall)

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Bold Leaders Who Defy Millennial Stereotypes

The Chronicle of Philanthropy invited me to write an opinion piece for their issue recognizing 40 nonprofit leaders under 40 years old who are solving the problems of today and tomorrow. I decided to use the platform to argue about how stereotypes about Millennials are often only about the most privileged Millennials, and to recognize that this list is better than those stereotypes.

I believe you must have a subscription to read it at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, but they gave me permission to reprint it on my blog.


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Vu Le is Right About Equity and Collective Impact

Vu Le, the blogger at Nonprofit With Balls, is an important voice in the nonprofit sector. He speaks truth to power and calls out the elephants in our collective room. Many critics approach their fields with righteousness; Vu approaches with refreshing humility as one struggling with these questions and willing to be wrong. On November 30th, he posted “Why Communities of Color Are Getting Frustrated with Collective Impact.” He may find it surprising that The Collective Impact Forum not only welcomes his critique, but is broadcasting it as an important contribution to our field. In this essay, I share why his critique is so valuable. The field needs to listen to voices like Vu in every community, welcome their critiques, and then figure out how we can create authentically inclusive and equitable collectives. Otherwise, we will not achieve sustainable social change.

Follow this link to the full essay, Vu’s original essay, and a series of recent essays on Racial equity and collective impact.

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Strengthening and Diversifying the Nonprofit Talent Pipeline

The essay offers four steps for nonprofits to be more strategic about recruiting, retaining, and advancing diverse talent: (1) Nonprofits should recruit from the strength of our sector’s scale and the challenging, meaningful and rewarding work we offer. (2) To retain talent, we must build cultures that support innovation and leadership development (3) Nonprofits must make racial equity and inclusion a strategic imperative so we better reflect the future of America and not its current disparities. (4) Philanthropists should partner with organizations to ensure adequate investment in staff recruitment and development to achieve better impact results.

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