2023 Key Takeaway: Collaborative efforts—alliances or mergers, collaborations, impact investing, and more—will become the front lines of strategic action for generating social impact.
This article is part of our series, The Outlook on Impact: Movements and Moments We’re Betting On in 2023. Check back for additional topics.
As social impact consultants, we get our fair share of queries at Good Scout Group from people looking for advising to start new nonprofits. They are typically compassionate, brilliant individuals who desire to create important social change.
But before we recommend the significant step of starting a nonprofit organization and all that it entails, there are myriad other avenues for creating social impact that we first consider and weigh.
In 2023 and beyond, a shift we expect to unfold in the social impact space is an increased focus on strategic alliances and collaborative impact efforts. This includes coalitions, mergers, impact investing, and more. These will become the front lines of strategic action for generating lasting impact.
“We need a mindset of collaboration first,” says Good Scout President and Managing Partner Charisse Brown Marcus. “The problems we face in our world today are big. It’s time to be strategic about coming together. The way forward is pooling our best, existing resources with the goal of getting greater results, faster,” Brown Marcus says. “The reality is, we don’t have time to waste.”
We also see a trend toward increased collaboration across sectors, as envisioned by the World Economic Forum Markets of Tomorrow Report: “There is growing evidence that dynamic governments and purpose-driven businesses are willing to shape a new era of public-private cooperation. A proactive approach and greater strategic planning are now required in order to create the ‘markets of tomorrow’ that meet key societal needs.”
Now, some practical advice. Before going the route of starting a nonprofit, Brown Marcus advises clients to do these three things.
1. Do Your Homework (Yes, There Is Always Homework)
First, research, research, research. Is there an organization locally, nationally, or internationally that is already doing what you hope to do? Can you invest in their mission? Can you learn from their best practices and mistakes to replicate the concept in another community?
Are any organizations are out there working on similar issues? Which programs or initiatives have been successful in the past? What challenges have other organizations faced, and how did they overcome them?
By doing your research, you can gain a better understanding of what has been done and what still needs to be done.
Our biggest tip: Starting from scratch is rarely the answer.
2. Compare Pathways to Effective and Measurable Impact
Second, evaluate the time and energy it will take to move the needle on your social issue, if you decide to start from the ground up. What does success look like, and what metrics will you use to determine your progress? Then, what is your strategic plan to get there?
In contrast, what would it look like to access, leverage, or amplify the existing resources you have identified elsewhere through research?
“The effort and resources you’re going to expend developing your program impact are substantial. And, unless you’re an expert, what expertise will you need to cultivate to be credible in this arena?” asks Brown Marcus.
Instead, it may be better to go all-in with someone who is already the best at identifying and designing solutions that target the issue you care about.
3. Think Strategically About a Collaborative Effort
Third, thoughtfully consider strategic alliances and collaborations you could pursue with existing leaders, entities, and organizations in your area of impact.
“Don’t skip the important step of talking to the community you want to serve,” says Brown Marcus. It may sound self-evident, but it’s not uncommon for well-meaning individuals to rush right to the innovation stage without pausing to understand the need and the landscape.
“You must understand the problem you’re trying to solve and discover what solutions exist at the grassroots level,” she says. “They may need an infusion of resources, technology, or talent to get to the next level. At the very least, you’re guaranteed to learn something from them.”
How might you bring funding, technology, innovation, or talent to an existing entity that is open to partnering with you? You also reap the added benefits of connecting directly with other people who are passionate about the same issues.
Ultimately, the path you choose should be the most strategic one—in other words, the route that leads to the most impactful outcomes.
Good Scout Group is a social impact consulting firm that guides nonprofits, brands, philanthropists, and investors on cultivating strategic alliances designed to maximize impact. Want to learn more? Read our case studies.