If you are expecting a sultry story about a foundation and its grantees, this blog will probably disappoint. If you are curious about how a small foundation used a simple tool to enhance collaboration among its grantees, read on!
Like many funders, we want to encourage our nonprofit partners to work together, since we believe they can exponentially increase their impact by doing so. Collaboration (especially for organizations in the same geographic area working toward the same goal) helps ensure that multiple organizations aren’t tackling the same problem and re-inventing the wheel each time a challenge arises. In foundation speak, it creates efficiencies.
We’ve been exploring the questions: Are there ways for funders to enhance or improve collaborative processes? And how do we know if collaboration is working? For the past two years, the Melville Charitable Trust has experimented with using a project management tool with our grantee partners that we feel has increased their capacity and enhanced their collaborative work to end homelessness in Connecticut.
A Little Background
Since 2004, the Trust has funded the Reaching Home Campaign to end homelessness in Connecticut. We fund five nonprofits to lead the statewide work, soliciting a grant proposal from each organization annually. Over the years, we noticed that the five proposals were very similar as they described the collaborative work. While each proposal was responsive to the broad goals of the Reaching Home Campaign, it became difficult to distinguish who was doing which elements of the work.
What We Did
We took a hard look at our grant processes and realized that we were probably sending mixed messages to our partners. We were looking for evidence of collaboration, but at the same time, we wanted to know what each group was uniquely doing to move Connecticut closer to meeting the Reaching Home goals. It might be true that each organization works across the different elements of the Campaign, but who was leading in which area? How was each organization using its unique skills to achieve the goals of the Reaching Home Campaign?
For the past two years, the Trust has used a RACI matrix (also known as a Responsibility Assignment Matrix) with our Reaching Home grantee partners to more clearly delineate each organization’s roles and responsibilities. The process has produced engaged conversations, clearer lines of accountability, and a shared purpose across organizations that informs the entire Campaign. The results of the RACI exercise have then directly informed each organization’s grant proposal to the Trust.
Here’s How It Works
Before grant proposals are due, our executive director and all program officers from the Trust bring together the executive directors of the five organizations. While there is always a temptation to bring in the second-in-command or other staff, we’ve held fast to an executive director-only structure. This provides a unique opportunity for them to talk directly with one another about strategy and organizational capacity, which allows for both building communal knowledge and creating shared accountability.
Prior to this year’s meeting, each director sent us their organization’s top three goals for the coming year for three priority areas:
For each goal, we ask them to name up to five key strategies. The directors are encouraged to solicit input from their staff. Bonus points if they consult with their partner organizations beforehand, as this saves time during the in-person meeting.
At the meeting, the goals and strategies are debated and voted upon until consensus is reached. It is critical that the goals focus on the coming year only, working toward the ultimate goals of the Campaign. This process takes up the bulk of the half day-long meeting. It’s worth noting that the Trust has been a longtime supporter of the Reaching Home Campaign and of the organizations that are leading it. Our staff sits on many of the working committees and is an active participant in Campaign activities. The fact that we all have been working together for many years – and achieving notable success in our efforts to end homelessness in Connecticut– may help explain why consensus around strategies can be achieved.
Next, for each strategy, the executive directors must agree which organization is the R, A, C, or I for each strategy:
Responsible (R) "The Doer"
The “doer” is the organization that actually completes the task. The “doer” is responsible for action/implementation. Responsibility can be shared, with the degree of responsibility determined by the organization with the “A.”
Accountable (A) “The Buck Stops Here”
The accountable organization is the single organization that is ultimately answerable for the activity or decision. This includes yes/no authority and veto power.
Consult (C) “In the Loop”
The consult role is an organization (typically subject matter experts) to be consulted prior to a final decision or action. This is a predetermined need for two-way communication and input from the designated position is required.
Inform (I) “Keep in the Picture”
This organization(s) needs to be informed after a decision or action is taken. They may be required to take action as a result of the outcome. It is a one-way communication.
Only one organization can be the “A” in each strategy. While it may seem desirable to be the “A” in every area, realistically this is not feasible, nor beneficial for a collaborative process. Too many “C’s” or “I’s” and perhaps your organization needs to take the lead in some new areas. Too many “R’s” and maybe your organization is taking on too much and could off-load some work to one of the partners. The RACI conversation gives the space for the partners to negotiate this while helping to foster honest discussion about roles and capacity between organization leaders.
We are grateful to have a core group of longstanding nonprofit partners with whom we work. The RACI process works well for our group because the organizations sign onto the goals of the Reaching Home Campaign at the start and have been actively working together for years. This level of trust and understanding goes a long way and we recommend building this baseline before introducing a tool like this.
As a funder, the RACI process has been invaluable in helping us understand how our grantee partners collaborate and how we can best support them. More importantly, it moves us closer to our goal of ending homelessness in our state.