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The Anchor Collaborative Convening

Mobilizing anchor institutions

On June 11th and 12th, The Anchor Collaborative Convening brought together 135 leaders and champions of anchor collaborations from 35 communities across the US and Canada. The Democracy Collaborative sends a big THANK YOU to The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Baltimore Integration Partnership, The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Baltimore Branch, The Funders Network for Smart Growth and Liveable Communities, CoCreative Consulting, and to all the attendees who approached this convening with a spirit of openness, creativity, and an eagerness to learn from one another.

What is an Anchor Collaborative?

An anchor collaborative is a network of anchor institutions, funders, and community partners working collaboratively to achieve shared, place-based goals of economic inclusion and equity. Place-based collaboration is impactful because it responds to and builds upon the uniqueness of local needs and local assets. Being able to adapt strategies to what’s working and not working on a local level leads to opportunities for new ways of working on a city’s most intractable challenges. But that adaptability and uniqueness also presents big questions: How do collaboratives know that they are on the right track? What models of success can we point to? What should a collaboration be striving to look like? How can collaboratives balance being adaptive in the short-term with being strategic for the long haul?

At the Democracy Collaborative, we believe that there is no singular path to equitable, inclusive, and participatory economic outcomes. This convening was an opportunity to highlight the uniqueness of many approaches, learn from what’s working and what’s not, and begin to map a way forward together.

What we did together

This was not a conference. We came together to advance our work and unpack the unique and shared challenges that each of us face in building more inclusive, equitable, and participatory economic systems in our cities and regions. Over the course of two days we…

  • Visited the sites of some of Baltimore’s local anchor institutions and learned about the work that is happening on the ground. We saw evidence of successes, and heard stories of the journey that it took to get there
  • Shared the values that drive our work and connect our anchor collaboratives across the country and across the globe
  • Prioritized and workshopped common challenges, articulated new challenges, and worked together to generate plausible solutions
  • Engaged with the stories of four anchor leaders in dynamic panel discussion which included champions from Cleveland, OH; Newark, NJ; Rochester, NY; and Tacoma, WA
  • Learned about one of the leading anchor-driven community wealth building strategies in the United Kingdom, the Preston Model, from city councillor Matthew Brown
  • Shared our own experiences and coached peers toward new ways of understanding and articulating their challenges in advancing local, collaborative anchor strategies
  • Worked within our cohorts to identify tangible next steps in pursuit of our communities’ goals
  • Elevated the uniqueness of all of our work, celebrated our successes, and shared lessons learned

How we did it

Our intended convening outcomes were to:


Building meaningful connections through which we can get and give support and thought partnership.


Prototype a way of working together that grows the capacity and impact of our anchor collaboratives.


Take away inspirational and useful insights, resources, and tools that will make a difference in our work.


Create a draft list of tools that could advance our work individually and collectively.

Examples of tools and things that our group might make and do together that emerged from the convening include:

  • Toolkits & Case Studies

    • Collaborative business model templates
    • Legal & regulatory guidance
    • Roadmaps and planning strategies
    • Tools for meaningfully measuring impact
    • Real world success stories
    • Real world challenges and lessons learned
  • An Anchor Collaborative maturity model to understand common success factors and milestones
  • Databases & information hubs
    • Directory of anchor collaboratives

      • Who is doing what? And where?
    • 3rd party facilitators for trust building or technical support
  • Collaborative “learning and doing” cohorts that provide a platform for ongoing dialogue, coaching, and support.
    • Grouped by stage of evolution
    • Peer learning/ coaching
    • A specific cohort or learning track for new or emerging collaboratives
  • Initiative groups, working groups, or convenings tailored to specific roles within anchor collaboration
    • Funders of anchor collaborative work
    • Influencing national suppliers
    • Training resources for procurement and/or hiring staff
  • Learning and connecting opportunities
    • Webinars to share best practices and workshop common challenges
    • Learning journeys to visit and learn from the work of peer anchor collaboratives
    • Regular convenings to continue to connect, align, learn, and make resources together

Why we did it

Working collaboratively gives us the opportunity for true multidimensional problem solving. While digging into our common challenges and coaching our peers we identified big questions that are top-of-mind for many anchor collaboratives today including:

  • What is the role of local government, communities, foundations?
  • How can an anchor collaborative be sustainable economically and as roles and resources change?
  • How can we better align a collective mission, vision, and priorities with multiple external partners?
  • How can we make out work “bigger” in terms of impact, capacity, and scaling from small wins?
  • How can we have structure, but still be flexible to address changing needs?
  • How can we collaborate with our competitors in a spirit of trust?
  • How can we use our collective creativity to create flexible solutions for all anchors and partners?
  • How can we keep community at the center of the work, honor the lived experience of our neighbors, and act from a place of solidarity?

What’s next?

A Design Team comprised of a half a dozen anchor collaborative leaders is actively working to prototype a framework for continued collaboration. We are calling this the Anchor Collaborative Network. Our next step will be to test this concept with the broader anchor collaborative community, and determine priorities for how we might continue our work together. Our goal is to create just enough structure to be supportive of each other without creating new distractions from our unique communities’ needs.

Community champions of anchor collaboratives are leading the way to accelerate inclusive, equitable, place-based, people-focused strategies that respond to local needs and challenges.

The Anchor Collaborative Network builds a shared movement of anchor institution collaborations by building relationships between these champions, elevating the uniqueness of their own approaches, channeling best practices into collective resources, and mapping a way forward together.

Critical Shifts in Leading and Advancing Collaboratives

The Anchor Collaborative Convening was built around Critical Shifts—moving from a challenge as we experience it today toward a future state in which we have overcome that challenge. The shifts emerged from interviews that The Democracy Collaborative staff conducted in the lead up to the event with the leaders and funders of anchor collaboratives.

⭐indicates priority topic that was workshopped at the convening
Current State Future State

Shared Intent & Organizational Structure

1. Structuring a Collaborative

I assume there are good ways to structure an anchor collaborative, but I am not familiar with the models and how they work. I am not sure we’re “doing it right”

I know enough about the various ways to structure an anchor collaborative that I can confidently design and improve our structure.

2. Being an Effective Intermediary

My anchor collaborative struggles to maintain its position as an intermediary between the community and the anchors.

The leaders of my anchor collaborative can confidently play the intermediary role in helping our community and anchor institutions collaborate.

3. Supporting Anchor Staff

Multi-anchor teams or working groups are difficult to manage because they are all from different organizations and have different job priorities.

My anchor collaborative is able to support anchor staff in managing and prioritizing anchor mission work across diverse institutional interests and priorities.

Anchor Engagement & Commitment

4. Building Trust among Anchors

Individual anchor institutions are sometimes untrusting of my anchor collaborative’s approach, and prefer to work independently on anchor mission strategies.

My anchor collaborative has established trust among anchor participants.

5. Supporting Community Participation

I am unsure of how to best build community participation into our work.

I can confidently support community members in playing clear and meaningful roles in our anchor collaborative.

Sustaining the Mission & Continuous Improvement

6. Funding the Work

I am unsure of how to fund our collaborative work.

My anchor collaborative has achieved financial sustainability.

7. Prioritizing Projects

Our anchor collaborative has no shortage of project ideas, but it is difficult to prioritize what we should work on.

I have a clear and reliable way to prioritize many potentially powerful and valuable projects.

Scaling Up the Impact

8. Building Commitment for the Long Haul

Anchor work is slow. Leaders and funders want to see fast change and it can be hard to keep all the parties on task.

Anchors, funders, collaborative leaders, and community members have confidence in the anchor theory of change, and are committed for the long haul.

9. Building a Small Business Ecosystem

We currently purchase from some small, local businesses, but we struggle to build and scale a thriving local business ecosystem

Our local businesses and anchors actively co-create strategies to connect and scale their supply and demand needs

10. Closing Workforce Skills Gaps

I am unsure of how to identify skill gaps and prepare local residents for available career paths.

My anchor collaborative has built an ecosystem that identifies and grows local talent in our communities that fit with the emerging needs of our anchor institutions.

Institutionalizing Change

11. Building Resilient Partnerships

My relationships with anchors are with individual champions. I often have to rebuild these relationships when people change positions.

Meaningful partnerships with anchor institutions are resilient and not dependent on one or two key individuals.

12. Getting Enough Time from Anchor Staff

Staff at participating anchor institutions struggle to make time for anchor collaborative work.

The work of the anchor collaborative is embedded into the regular work of anchor staff, and the goals of the anchor collaborative are seen as a key institutional priority.

13. Leading Collaborative Work

Anchor collaborative work requires certain unique skills and I don’t always know where to find the right talent.

I know more about the skills required to manage and lead collaborative work, and am able to recruit qualified staff.


14. Measuring Impact & Effectiveness

I am unsure of how to benchmark or measure the impact of our work.

I am able to confidently measure and report the impact of anchor work to funders, anchors, and our community.

15. Sharing Data Openly

Anchor institutions are hesitant to share information with the collaborative and each other.

Anchor institutions can safely and confidently share data with each other in pursuit of their common mission.

16. Ensuring Good Small Business Data

It’s difficult to keep up with small business databases that are constantly being changed/updated.

My anchor collaborative is able to effectively utilize accurate local small business listing services/certifications.

17. Growing Employee Ownership

I am unsure of how to integrate employee ownership into the work of our anchor collaborative.

I clearly see how my anchor collaborative can help advance employee ownership locally.

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