Janet E. Jackson: Uniting leaders — Creating a collective impact within your community — or business

I am fortunate to serve as the president and CEO of one of the nation’s largest United Way organizations, and I spend a lot of time working to inspire and motivate my team.

But I have a much larger role: To help educate the Central Ohio community about huge issues that keep people from thriving, and mobilize everyone to help solve them.

In that role, I engage with a diverse group of leaders from the corporate, education, government and nonprofit worlds to learn from their input and forge working relationships.

Together, we have come to understand that no one organization can provide the improvements we need to create the opportunities that build a prosperous community. We realized that we must take a new approach where all organizations play important roles in advancing the common good. We need to create collective impact.

A shared goal

You may not have heard of collective impact, but it is a concept that more and more people are paying attention to.
At its simplest level, collective impact happens when a core group of people or organizations come together around a shared goal with a common set of strategies and methods — everyone bringing their strengths to the table to solve an issue that cannot be solved alone.

Collective impact moves beyond collaboration. It requires a higher level of commitment — each partner must fulfill the role that best moves the collective work forward. United Way is embracing this new model and is willing to be a convener, catalyst, advocate or leader.

Lessons learned

We are at the beginning of our journey toward achieving collective impact, but some of the guidelines we have learned from our years of effective collaboration are already clear:

  • Trust each other. Every partner that comes to the table has to know that there is a mutual level of trust. We achieve this by being open and transparent, and we expect the same from our partners. To create transformational change will take all of our energy.
  • Get the facts. Like any good business, we collect pertinent data and analyze it to determine the most effective ways to invest our donors’ gifts. In a collective impact model, each partner organization will bring its data and analysis to the table. Together, we can work to determine the root causes of the issues we need to solve.
  • Prioritize the goals of the community-wide effort over those of each partner organization. This may be the most difficult guideline because while every partner is working to strengthen our community, we all accomplish that by focusing primarily on the work of our individual organizations.
  • Maintain a long-term perspective. Creating transformational change takes a long time, and there will be many triumphs and setbacks along the way. Once we have an effective plan in place we have to persevere and support each other.

Uniting a diverse group of leaders to create greater positive impact than anyone could achieve on their own is an ambitious undertaking, but I believe that we can and must do it.


Janet E. Jackson is the president and CEO of United Way of Central Ohio, one of the largest United Way organizations in the world. Under her leadership, United Way is working to build a community where everyone has the aspirations, resources and opportunities to reach their potential. Reach her at (614) 227-2746 or [email protected]. For more information, visit liveunitedcentralohio.org.

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetejackson
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Twitter (company): @UWCO