Editor’s Note: Jim Delaney is Founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based Engine for Social Innovation, which brings together teams of talented professionals from the business community to tackle projects for nonprofits. This is his first guest blog post for InCommons.
There are important mechanics and underlying principles of collective impact – a prevailing theory of social change – that don’t get as much attention as the end goal of solving social issues. The machine that makes collective impact possible is collective action, and collective sustainable action can only come from aligning the needs of all constituents. In contrast, for many years the model has been to encourage the flow of resources (abundance) towards challenges (needs). The concept of “needs-alignment” is starting to be the norm in many social enterprises.
As this concept became clearer to me, I shifted Engine, the company I started two years ago, towards aligning the needs of three distinct and seemingly disparate constituents – corporations, their employees and the needs of nonprofits. Our model brings together small teams of talented corporate professionals to work on community projects that build capacity for nonprofits. The goal is to develop multi-dimensional leaders of the future while helping to address strategic capacity-building challenges of nonprofits today.
Like InCommons, Engine is committed to elevating intrapersonal dialogue and cooperation between individuals and groups, with the goal of improving human understanding, productivity and problem solving. We use the extraordinary power of collective wisdom to meet the challenges of working for change, while giving nonprofits the talent and attention they need to seize every opportunity to further their missions and serve the community where we all work and live.
Through action-based learning and Combinatorial Creativity,
professionals develop their skills and knowledge while helping nonprofits tackle tough strategic challenges. We align and address the needs of our constituents, rather than looking at corporations as resources as we had been, to create sustained and collective impact. The needs we seek to align are:
Needs of Corporations –“We need to keep and develop our best people.”
Dozens of blog posts, articles and whitepapers express the challenges corporations face in attracting, engaging and retaining high-potential employees. Many corporations are working vigorously to address these needs but don’t always have the internal tools or external resources to address them. Nick Petrie of the Center for Creative Leadership wrote a great whitepaper
about the future of leadership development and the challenges of finding the right resources.
Needs of Corporate Employees – “I want to change the world from the comfort of my regular life.”
High-potential employees are seeking to be leaders early on in their careers and to exercise their capabilities in both work and in the community without upending their careers. None of the three most popular community engagement models – traditional volunteering, joining a nonprofit board or pro bono work based on existing skills – fulfill the multitude of needs of talented and busy professionals. We combine SOCIAL, CIVIC and PROFESSIONAL development and engagement so participants have no reason to be unengaged or to disengage.
Needs of Nonprofits – “I have no time to build capacity; I need to solve the challenges of today.”
In meeting and talking to nonprofit and community leaders (and having run a nonprofit myself) it is clear that the need for outside resources is essential to building the capacity for doing more with less. In a time of severe shortages of funding, increased demand for services and increased scrutiny of nonprofits by donors and others, it is almost impossible for nonprofit leaders to have enough time, staff or other resources to address strategic opportunities internally. At the same time, nonprofit leaders have a lot to teach corporate leaders about innovation and efficiency in an environment of scarcity, ambiguity and uncertainty.
Addressing the needs of our three constituents serves the community in the short-term by helping nonprofits serve their constituents and serves the community for the long-term by developing corporate leaders with a deep understanding of at least one community challenge and at least one nonprofit working to address that community challenge. Finally, the model serves to help corporations attract, engage and retain their top talent through community engagement which is also a representation of good corporate citizenship.
Since we started Engine in 2010, we have learned a great deal about the needs of corporations, their rising stars and the non-profit visionaries we serve:
• The world needs more multi-dimensional leaders to help solve complex challenges
• Participants from corporations confirmed that they learned to work through challenges more effectively because the project was for the good of the community
• Participants need to work in a “no-fail” environment to learn and to gain the confidence to lead
• Leadership training and experience should be “baked in, not frosted on” to a person’s career
• Nonprofits can benefit from cross-sector collaboration to adopt advanced earned income strategies and manage the demand by donors to prove return on investment (donations)
Collaborative space is essential. Working in-person is an important part in creating nuanced solutions sustained relationships and collective impact. An example – The Engine Room
• The world is heading in the direction of win-win-win-win solutions due to reduced resources
Look at your needs and the needs of others as opportunities for collaboration rather than as deficits. In doing so, sustainable relationships can form and each side winds up feeling like they got the better deal.
Please contact me directly
for more information about Engine or check our website
. We can’t wait to hear how you might apply the concept of “needs-alignment” and collective action for your organization!