CFF Great Start Lg.

Funding from the Cook Family Foundation

The Cook Family Foundation wants to initiate, participate in, and financially support cooperation and collaborative efforts in Shiawassee County. We are committed to supporting collaboration in Shiawassee County in at least three different ways:

  1. Information Sharing between organizations and agencies can identify opportunities for collaboration.  When organizations can communicate clearly about their aspirations and activities, then others can align with and support endeavors which are mutually beneficial. Such cooperative efforts can be part of an ongoing process or a one-time meeting, and can occur either in person or virtually.
  2. Partnerships and other joint efforts allow organizations to provide programs in the most efficient manner and target services where they can achieve the biggest impact at the least cost. The best partnerships draw on the strength of one organization to complement those of another.  Typically, joint efforts are defined by a memorandum of understanding (MOU) or other written document that outline the roles and responsibilities of each partner.
  3. Collective Impact and other structured forms of collaboration allow several organizations to come together to address common community problems which are often beyond the scope of any one organization and agency to solve.  To be successful, collaboration requires intentional planning, a clear purpose with agreement on quantified goals, ongoing communication, and a formal structure to support coordination.

Commitment and effort mark the nonprofits in Shiawassee County.  Many have built up successful programs based on the hard work of their staff, the passion of their volunteers, and their long-standing experience with the issues. They are often experts on the topics central to their mission.  

However, some problems facing our community exceed the capacity of any one organization.  Poverty, drug abuse, health deficiencies, and the challenges of families are all examples of issues that escape easy resolution. The shortage of funds and the inherent limitations of government complicate most efforts to improve the community.  And many issues– such as our environment, our history, and our cultural expressions–are not limited by political boundaries or organizational definitions.

We can accomplish more when we work together. Each collaboration is unique given the issues, stakeholders, and timeline; we welcome an email inquiry or the opportunity to have a conversation about how we can support your efforts.  Another place to start is to look at our Cook Family Foundation Collaboration Grant Application

For more information, contact Kerry Dutcher at (989) 725-1621  or

Collective Impact:  Thoughts from Tom Cook

The mission of the Cook Family Foundation is to serve as a resource for the community and as a catalyst for positive change.  Over several decades of funding efforts, we have come to learn that the successes at community improvement are often those that involve multiple parties working together for common goals.  That is, we believe in collective impact and are willing to provide grant funding to support it.  These are my thoughts on the topic:

My Experience
For a number of years now, I have been part of many joint efforts to create positive change: in nonprofit organizations, in my community, on the state and regional level, on boards and as a volunteer, as part of multi-funder efforts, and with small groups of people in both intellectual and recreational settings. The term “collective impact,” sums of much of what I have learned in my experiences.

For 16 years I was part of a leadership program, and much of what I have learned from that experience can be summed up with the mantra “none of us alone is as smart as all of us together.” The ideas I have heard presented under the label “collective impact” put a formal structure to this truth.

In Shiawassee County, I have been proud to be involved with the Great Start Collaborative to promote early childhood development.  It is a model of what can be accomplished through collective impact.  I have also played a small role to help initiate a local College Access Network to promote post-secondary education in our community. This effort has formally embraced the collective impact model, and I owe them a thank you for first identifying this approach to me.

There are three articles that sum up collective impact. Here are links to them:

I recommend the articles; they are relatively short and easy to read;, and contain some nice summary components. Through my experience, here is my interpretation of how to create change through collective impact:

Five Components of Collective Impact

  1. Common Agenda: We all have to agree on where we are going.  It’s important that a diverse group of stakeholders be brought to the table, and it is necessary to work through people’s assumptions, come to a shared understanding of the problem, and develop a common vision for the future.  I have been through this exercise many times, and usually find it stimulating; however, it’s important to put the vision in writing and have people (literally) sign on to it.  It is also critical that the other four components be a part of the process or it will just be a “vision thing.”
  2. Shared Measurement Systems: “What gets measured matters” has been a truth I have encountered often. The evolution of better data and online systems now makes it much easier for a group to share information. Not only does this promote transparency (another of my values), but also if a group can agree on a set of common metrics, it makes for a powerful tool to achieve the goals embodied in the vision, and promote accountability. A shared measurement system makes collective action real.
  3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Collective impact is not about having everyone do the same thing; rather, it is about each organization (or person) doing what they do best, but doing it in a coordinated way in service of the common mission.  Creating change and tackling any entrenched problem is a complex task requiring multiple approaches (e.g. Great Start’s pediatric health initiative requires working with physicians and their support systems, coordinating the staffs of community agencies, as well changing parental behaviors; each requires its own expertise).  The key is to get the right people on the bus, have them tackle their part of the problem with the tools they have, but do it in a strategic, coordinated fashion. Asset mapping, i.e. determining what strengths we have as a group, is a great way to start this process.  Data measures, shared feedback, and other quality improvement tools are the way to guide and course-correct progress.
  4. Continuous Communication: Another frequent topic of conversation in any collective effort seems to be marketing and public relations, and certainly getting out a consistent message is an important part of change.  Of greater importance is making sure that there is good communication between and among all participants.  This requires, importantly, face-to-face meetings among the leaders of all organizations, and frequent use of electronic communication tools.  The former builds trust; the latter creates full awareness.
  5. Backbone Support Organization: I am perhaps most thankful that the articles explicitly name this as a necessary component to having an impact. I have been involved in too many joint efforts that fail because it is assumed that everyone involved can do just a part of what is needed to move the work forward.  A network is important, but something (someone!) has to keep it tied together and give it structure.  To quote, “Creating and managing collective impact requires a separate organization and staff with a very specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative. Coordination takes time, and none of the participating organizations has any to spare.” My new commitment as a funder is to make sure that this staff function is financially supported.

Turf and Tenacity:
a final note comes from several of my colleagues on the reality of carrying out collective impact. Any effective collaborative effort is a messy process that requires a commitment to working (hard), and working through the inevitable issues that arise in relating to other people and other organizations.  We are all proud of our work (or we should be!) and sometimes it is hard to give up some of the control, the credit, or even our funds (i.e. “turf”).  But this can be necessary to make progress. Anyone engaged in collective impact needs to be conscious of their partners and be committed to working through the tough patches.  Like anything, you need to stick to it to have success.