A backbone is a servant, it plays a very behind-the-scenes role of facilitating and supporting partner organizations to have success in their groundwork. It must have dedicated resources, be able to utilize data, and be a neutral convener.1
“Like a manager at a construction site who attends to the whole building while carpenters, plumbers and electricians come and go, the support staff [of a backbone] keeps the collaborative process moving along, even as the participants may change.”2
Backbone Organizations Serve 6 Essential Functions3
- Providing overall strategic direction
- Facilitating dialogue between partners
- Managing data collection and analysis
- Handling communications
- Coordinating community outreach
- Mobilizing funding
Benefits of a Backbone
- Aligns and coordinates individuals and organizations to address an issue in a more united and successful way.
- Gathers data and shares its database and information with the collective so all may act immediately on new knowledge.
- Evaluates and learns from data and shares these learnings with the collective.
- Offers technical support.
- Keeps collaborative process active and moving along.
- Provides clarity around who is doing what, so as to not duplicate efforts.
- Advocates with investors to support action plans and with leaders to help overcome hurdles.
- Provides access to funding and enables organizations to avoid certain expenses by centralizing the efforts (i.g. data collection and analysis).
While the backbone supports and coordinates, the vision and oversight remain centralized through the steering committee.
2 Jay Connor. 2004. Community Visions, Community Solutions: Grantmaking for Comprehensive Impact