President's Corner

Focus on Collective Impact

February 7, 2011

Luz Vega-Marquis
By Luz Vega-Marquis
President and CEO

True alignment requires we think about new ways of investing time and money.

Reflecting on our achievements of the past year and on our expectations for 2011 is particularly poignant given that we will celebrate our 10th anniversary this year. We have come a long way from my first days with the Foundation, when its organizational infrastructure seemed to consist only of a coffee maker. Looking back, it has been an extraordinary era, one in which Marguerite Casey Foundation has grown from an idea into its current stage of organizational development.

We are turning the corner both internally and externally, approaching our work with a renewed intentionality under the Equal Voice framework. We will reflect and encourage the core Equal Voice principles of network building, cross-issue and cross-strategy work, and a commitment to lifting up all families. I have no doubt that this will take us to remarkable places in 2011 and beyond.

The Equal Voice framework is an extension and a natural next step in our work. Marguerite Casey Foundation is entering the life-cycle phase of maturity, characterized by a stabilizing staff and culture, formalized rules and a decreasing rate of change. Our needs are precisely those that organization life-cycle theories predict for an organization at the point of maturity: human resource development to support staff, formal systems, and strategies to avoid stagnation, such as new program components and ways to stay accountable to the community. During 2011, we will focus on our organizational needs by investing in internal systems, resources, planning, and strategy development, recognizing that those investments will lead to greater impacts in our grantmaking and communications.

I believe we will look back at 2010 as an inflection point, the point when we reached maturity as an organization and made a pivotal institutional decision to see Equal Voice as the framework for our work. This decision, as well as our preparedness to focus on formal systems and on strategies to stay fresh, has significant implications for our future and the collective impact we aim to achieve with our colleagues and grantee partners.

A timely article, “Collective Impact” by John Kania and Mark Kramer, which appears in the Winter 2011 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, offers incredible insights that apply to our movement building work and points to several tangible steps to consider as we endeavor to take Equal Voice to the next level in 2011. The authors advocate collective impact initiatives, coordinated and ambitious networks that have proven effective at creating social change. The nonprofit sector most frequently operates using an approach the authors call isolated impact, that is, finding and funding a solution in a single organization that, at best, may be replicated to extend its impact. Obviously, that approach inherently limits impacts to the scope of the individual organization, and that limitation is compounded by the isolation of the nonprofit sector:

Collaboration is nothing new. The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of joint efforts. But collective impact initiatives are distinctly different. Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.

Creating successful collective impact initiatives requires an investment of time and money, and a shift in the funder’s role, from funding organizations to leading a long-term process of social change. The authors’ research shows that successful collective impact initiatives have five conditions that produce true alignment and results:

  1. A common agenda: Clarity about a shared vision for change rooted in a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed-upon actions
  2. Shared measurement systems: Agreement on the ways success will be measured and supported
  3. Mutually reinforcing activities: Coordination of differentiated activities among partners
  4. Continuous communication: Creating a common vocabulary, opportunities to build trusting relationships, and ongoing communication between regular meetings
  5.  Backbone support organizations: A supporting infrastructure for collaboration that includes a highly structured process for decision-making

The article is timely in that it reinforces our approach and reaffirms what we will need to do over the next year to embrace and advance Equal Voice as the framework for our work:

  • Orient and re-orient our grantee partners to the shared agenda embodied in Equal Voice.
  • Identify and adopt shared measurement systems that will support mutual accountability and track our progress.
  • Coordinate the efforts of our diverse grantee partners.
  • Enhance our communication with grantee partners and support ongoing communication mechanisms among them.
  • Improve our internal capacity to provide support for collaboration by coordinating our grantmaking and communications programs, developing tools and resources to enhance the collective impact of grantees, expanding and directing staff toward coordination and support, and developing a sustainable supportive structure for Equal Voice.

Those are the same themes that emerged from our 2010 Leadership Team and Staff Retreat, affirming that our internal expertise and experience reflect external best practices and cutting edge thinking. We are focused, backed by best practices and ready to bring Marguerite Casey Foundation into its next 10 years.

The article “Collective Impact” demonstrates that we are not outside the norm of Foundations willing to engage in new strategies that have the potential to realize the power of our sector to create social change. As we enter 2011, I am hopeful and confident about what we will achieve this year.

Thank you for your guidance, support and leadership, which have positioned Marguerite Casey Foundation for continued success.

Looking Back at 2010

Marguerite Casey Foundation advanced its mission in 2010 through innovative grantmaking, communications and convening strategies. During 2010, we accomplished the following:

Our 10th Anniversary

  • We formed an ad hoc committee to guide our plans for marking the Foundation’s 10th anniversary in 2011.

Equal Voice

  • We gathered ideas about the structure and direction of Equal Voice through a listening tour of our grantmaking regions, grantee input, and research, leading us to embrace Equal Voice as the framework for our work.
  • We crafted new language to describe the meaning and purpose of Equal Voice.
  • We marketed and distributed the documentary Raising Hope, which was shown on PBS affiliate stations throughout the country.
  • We launched the online newspaper Equal Voice as a communications and action alert tool.


  • We made $24.1 million in grants (discretionary, program and matching).
  • We implemented changes in regional grantmaking strategies, including the addition of Appalachia (Tennessee and Kentucky) to the South grantmaking region and changes in the Southwest region.
  • We conducted grantee site visits.


  • New publications included the annual report, a movement building paper and the 2010 Equal Voice National Convening proceedings paper.
  • We made improvements to the website, which will be built upon during 2011.
  • We completed a revised style guide.
  • We published 16 Equal Voice news stories and 40 blog posts from staff and grantee

National Convening

  • We held a national grantee convening in Chicago, Sept. 26-28, 2010, to build grantee capacity and to advance Equal Voice among the 420 individuals representing 220 of our grantee partners.
  • In preparation for the national convening, we formed a committee of convening advisors- 20 grantee representatives who provided guidance about the content and format of the convening through in-person and conference-call meetings.


  • We designed and initiated our first annual impact assessment report.
  • We updated and launched our third annual grantee survey .
  • We revised our grant reporting forms to better capture data on network development and policy campaigns.
  • We streamlined the closeout report template to focus on assessing progress made by grantees toward movement building.

Organizational Development

  • We became an independent organization, separating from Casey Family Programs.
  • We moved to a new office site.
  • We conducted a review of internal structures and made appropriate improvements, including increased support for human resources, and positioned the organization for further improvements in 2011.
  • We invested in staff development, including the hiring and integration of four new staff members, the reinstatement of staff development resources, and an all-staff retreat (the report from the retreat is enclosed with this report).

Looking Forward to 2011

During 2011, we look forward to the following:

Our 10th Anniversary

  • We will celebrate Marguerite Casey Foundation’s 1oth anniversary with guidance from the Ad Hoc Committee, we will plan and carry out a 101h anniversary celebration.

Equal Voice

  • We will develop and adopt a structure to coordinate and sustain our Equal Voice efforts, both within the Foundation and among our grantee partners.
  • We will develop tools for use by grantee partners to spread the word about Equal Voice, and we will increase access to our existing tools.
  • We will coordinate caucuses among grantees about Equal Voice issues and strategies, with a focus on increasing family engagement, preparing community-based spokespeople, and increasing youth involvement.


  • We will make $25.4 million in grants.
  • We will refine and communicate our expectations of grantee partners in relation to our Equal Voice framework and goals.
  • We will clarify our criteria for grantmaking and benchmarks to assess new and renewal grants to ensure alignment with the Equal Voice framework.


  • We will make improvements to the Foundation website.
  • We will leverage the Foundation’s position and power to engage others in our work and to build more support for low-income families.
  • We will produce and distribute more Equal Voice stories.
  • We will develop and distribute Equal Voice talking points to advance a clear message.
  • We will publicize the impact of Equal Voice through increased media coverage and circulation of the Equal Voice newspaper.
  • We will develop and execute a five-year strategic communication plan .

Convening of Grantees

  • We will analyze the role that convenings will play in aligning our work and our grantees with the Equal Voice framework, and map a strategy for future convenings.
  • We will explore the possibility of regional convenings or a national convening in 2011.


  • We will publish our first annual impact assessment report and proceed with second report which will include year-to-year comparative data.
  • We will update and conduct our fourth annual grantee survey.
  • We will revise our grant reporting forms to match criteria for grantmaking and benchmarks regarding alignment with the Equal Voice framework.
  • We will explore further refinements to closeout reports including an additional template for renewal grants to capture changes over time.
  • We will complete an assessment of the mini-grants based on final reports submitted by grantees.

Organizational Development

  • We will engage in a strategic effort to align and coordinate the grantmaking and communications units under the Equal Voice umbrella.
  • We will review the plans for a director of Equal Voice and consider alternative scenarios for the position, such as a director of strategy who could serve as a coordinator of all Equal Voice efforts and all units, and review and possibly revise the organizational structure to support our efforts to advance Equal Voice.
  • We will focus on improving internal communications, increasing collective learning for staff members, cross-pollinating work among all units, and increasing human resources support.


Marguerite Casey Foundation once again ended the year with a balanced budget, as we have done every year. We ended 2010:

  • Our investment portfolio climbed to $592,702,000 which is an increase of $44,600,000 for the year. This is after liquidating $26,500,000 for grants and operations.
  • Making grants of $24,166,000 and paying grants of $20,972,000 which increased grant commitments to $9,138,000 at year end. We will continue to closely monitor and manage grants payments to balance IRS requirements, MCF resources and grantee needs.
  • Office relocation costs of approximately $200,000, not included in the 2010 budget, were offset by reduced management costs.

External Relations

During my most recent Independent Sector board meeting, several people referenced comments I have rnade in past years about low-income families and movement building, urging Independent Sector and other organizations to consider the role of movement building strategies in their work. It is encouraging to hear these ideas being reflected at this level with the Independent Sector community. I will continue to serve on the Independent Sector board during the next year, and although I surrendered my chairmanship of the Public Policy Committee, I will remain a member of that committee.

I am working with Career Pathways, the Council on Foundations’ leadership program for midcareer professionals who hope to become CEOs in the future. The current cohort includes 15 individuals. This is an opportunity to contribute to the field and to share our lessons about movement building with the next generation of philanthropic leaders.


  • What is your assessment of our performance during the past year?
  • What more can we do to leverage the Foundation’s position and track record to enhance our collective impact?
  • Do you see other challenges and/or opportunities that we have overlooked?

Focus on Collective Impact