Giving Compass' Take:

• Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network (SCMSN) describes how it cultivates collaboration by using tactics that encourage acceptance and tolerance. 

• Why is collaboration important in social impact work? How can it affect an organization's sustainability? 

• Read about the benefits of collaborative philanthropy. 

Social impact networks offer a foundation for collaborations driven by shared purpose. Most models for developing networks for collaboration emphasize discovering or clarifying purpose as the first step.  But purpose doesn’t always have to manifest in the form of a single vision or strategic plan shared among all participants—indeed, narrower views of it can sometimes discourage collaboration. Purpose can be diffuse, multiple, and emergent, and still bring many kinds of stakeholders together.

I often describe the work of the Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network (SCMSN), which I manage, as driven by “complex purpose.” While it has a high-level, shared purpose of helping California’s Santa Cruz Mountains region thrive, it doesn’t organize any specific action.

The SCMSN is a land stewardship network comprised of 21 very different organizations, including land trusts, public agencies like state and county parks, a timber company, universities, and an indigenous tribal band. Beginning when the network formed, it was clear there were many areas of mutual interest even though members’ missions varied widely. And because the relationships were new, no one was sure what kinds of collaborations would be viable. We were clear about wanting the region to thrive but not about which actions we would engage to support it.

Even when purposes are diffuse, multiple, and emergent, networks can cultivate collaboration using the following tactics:

  • Recognize diverse needs among network members. 
  • Cultivate clusters of mutual interest.
  • Cultivate a tolerance for ambiguity.
  • Build trust between members.
  • Encourage information-sharing.
  • Encourage self-organization.
  • Mirror back the work. 

A network’s complexity and the complexity of its purposes correlate. Having more members and interests can mean that a single shared purpose is more difficult to come by.

Read the full article about purpose and collaboration by Dylan Skybrook  at Stanford Social Innovation Review