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Activated Champions

Champions are individuals who play an outsized role in advancing the mission, goals, and values of the anchor collaborative. As dedicated individuals who are either employed by anchor institutions or positioned at key partner organizations, champions are committed organizers inside and outside of their organizations. They serve as catalysts for change who can mobilize additional champions, mentor their peers, drive adoption of collaborative strategies within their own organization, and maintain momentum within the collaborative through their leadership.

Champions are essential for building partnerships, community support, and advocating for continued resources for successful anchor strategy implementation. Activating these individuals means engaging and empowering them in ways that harness their expertise and motivate them to take action. When backbones and/or conveners engage, organize, and activate new and existing champions across each member of the anchor collaborative and key partner organizations, they create a powerful network of advocates who are invested in the success of the collaboration and the well-being of the communities it serves.

What you need to know

To successfully activate champions:

  1. Identify anchor institutions in your community and begin to build a deeper understanding of the organization’s social mission, organizational priorities, public commitments to racial equity, and any existing anchor mission strategies.
  2. Map community leaders within and outside of anchor institutions who are necessary to deepen institutional commitments to anchor strategies and sustain momentum over the long-term. Lean on early champions (e.g., those who initiated the collaborative) to reach leaders at anchor institutions.
  3. Cultivate relationships with executive- and department-level champions across institutions in order to socialize anchor mission principles, deepen existing commitments to racial and economic equity, and draw connections between their participation in the collaborative and their organizational objectives.
  4. Provide opportunities for both existing and emerging champions to activate their skills, networks, or expertise to advance the goals of the collaborative.
  5. Regularly communicate and celebrate successes to maintain engagement of champions and attract additional support, funding, and resources—and ask them to do so as well with key influencers.
  6. Work with champions to intentionally embed anchor mission commitments into their organization’s strategic plan, governance, and culture, supporting long-term viability and sustainability of the anchor collaborative.

In this section, we discuss how to activate executive- and departmental-level champions, how to keep them active and engaged, and how to sustain movement over time.

Who are champions?

Successful backbones and/or conveners activate champions at multiple levels within anchor institutions. Executive-level champions provide essential support and resources, while department-level champions provide specialized expertise on various anchor strategies. Champions have decision-making authority regarding staffing, resources, and operations within their institution or department, which enables them to accelerate adoption of anchor mission principles and strategies. In addition to anchor institution champions, successful anchor collaboratives also activate champions from community organizations, as well as other key community leaders (e.g., elected officials) to build a broader network of support for the collaborative's work.

From wherever they sit, champions raise awareness about anchor mission principles, advocate for necessary resources and support for the collaborative, and serve as vital links for advancing anchor strategies within and outside the organization they represent. Identifying, cultivating, and activating champions is a critical (and ongoing) step in building an effective anchor collaborative.

It is important to recognize that champions may hold different levels of formal and informal influence, and have varying interests and priorities within their organizations and the community. Some champions may be deeply involved in the day-to-day work of the collaborative, while others may provide strategic guidance, resources, or support from a higher level. Understanding and respecting these differences can help backbones tailor their engagement strategies and cultivate champions who are well-positioned to support the collaborative's goals and impact.

Champions are leaders who have the authority and regard to build organizational buy-in, ensure organizational and operational resources are directed towards goals, make decisions, and leverage relationships to build partnerships and advance [community investment].

[40] Alyia Gaskins, R. Steinitz, and R. Hacke, Investing in Community Health: A Toolkit for Hospitals (Center for Community Investment, 2020), page #25,

Activating executive-level champions

Executive champions are the leadership-level representatives of anchor institutions who play a pivotal role in advocating for the collaborative, forging partnerships, and mobilizing resources that enable anchor strategy implementation. Resources dedicated to the anchor collaborative and any anchor strategies will be maximized when leaders at the top are “bought-in” from the start.

Steps for getting started: Engaging executive-level champions

  • Qualities of an executive-level championIdentify potential executive champions: Identify and reach out to leaders of anchor institutions who have the authority, influence, and commitment to drive change. Look for leaders with a track record of community engagement, social impact, and a commitment to the collaborative's goals. Lean on the networks of your early champions to reach and connect with leaders of anchor institutions and the community.

  • Offer a compelling vision: Build a deeper understanding of each organization’s social mission, organizational priorities, and any existing commitments to anchor strategies. Offer a compelling vision for the anchor collaborative that aligns with the mission and goals of the anchor institutions. Highlight the potential impact of the collaborative on community development, economic growth, and social equity.

  • Build relationships: Discuss anchor mission principles with prospective champions, listen to their perspectives, understand priorities and concerns, take note of what resonates and where they may need further information, and share opportunities for further engagement and learning.

  • Shared vision: Make clear the synergy between their organizations’ internal goals and priorities—and the anchor mission framework.

  • Highlight mutual benefits: Emphasize the mutual benefits of participating in the anchor collaborative, such as enhanced reputation, access to new funding opportunities, and increased community engagement. Show how collaboration can strengthen institutional resilience and contribute to long-term sustainability.

At the executive level, early supporters of the work evolve into champions as they grow comfortable discussing anchor mission principles with colleagues, begin to dedicate resources, and help make connections within and outside their organization in ways that support the anchor strategies and the collaborative. As executive champions emerge, they can also support the backbone by helping connect with and recruit new members of the collaborative.

[41] Xavier Briggs, “Social Capital and the Cities: Advice to Change Agents,” National Civic Review 86(2), (2007): 111-117, accessed February 1, 2024,

Activating department-level champions

As the work progresses, the collaborative will need champions from different levels of the organization beyond those in top leadership positions. An anchor mission approach also requires buy-in from staff across the organization who might not have a history of working together. With the support of executive-level champions, cultivating and activating champions at different levels and departments within each anchor institution helps to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the collaborative, while ensuring momentum is maintained—especially as champions move on to new positions or leave the organization.

For example, a collaborative focused on Impact Purchasing must cultivate supply chain leaders as champions who support implementation of that strategy. A collaborative focused on Place-based Investing cultivates champions in finance, treasury, and community health or community relations. An Impact Workforce strategy is not possible without champions in human resources, recruitment, talent development, and community engagement. Furthermore, cultivating champions who are diverse in their race and ethnicity, gender, age, language, and socio-economic backgrounds brings variety in perspectives, experiences, and insights from the communities who stand to be most impacted by the collaborative’s activities.

Steps for getting started: Engaging department-level champions

Qualities of a department-level champion
  • Work with executive champions to identify department-level champions who oversee departments related to anchor mission strategies: human resources (Impact Workforce), procurement (Impact Purchasing), treasury and community engagement (Place-based Investing), or other departments with ties to the anchor mission such as government relations.

  • Understand how they do their work and build a deeper understanding of what they are already working on at the department level. Get into the nitty gritty on what is working and what has been challenging in anchor strategies or anchor mission-like initiatives (e.g., supplier diversity, local hiring programs, and community giving campaigns).

  • Draw connections between their participation in the anchor collaborative and their departmental objectives. Share what you know about what is happening in the community, the opportunity for them to connect with peers at other anchor institutions, and the capacity-building support that the collaborative can provide.

  • Emphasize the mutual benefits of participating in the anchor collaborative, such as enhanced reputation in their organization, deeper connections to community partners, and access to new learning (and funding) opportunities.

Keeping champions active and engaged

Backbone staff should dedicate time to understanding the distinct assets, motivations, and limitations of their champions. Executive-level champions may gravitate toward a publicly-facing role where they spread awareness and build rapport in the community. Some may opt to stay closely involved in the day-to-day decision making of the collaborative, while others delegate regular meeting participation to a department-level champion who reports back to leaders regularly. Champions may have specialized skills or networks that position them well to engage deeply in some aspects of the collaborative's work (e.g., specific working groups) and not others.

Activating champions means providing an additional layer of support to members who have stepped up as leaders within the collaborative. Champions are often engaged in multiple initiatives at their respective institutions, so a level of administrative support—such as templates, agendas, support in scheduling, frequent progress updates, and clarity in request and next steps—is needed to keep them excited and engaged. This additional support can further empower them to drive meaningful change, inspire their peers, and maximize the collective impact of the collaborative’s efforts. Below are some ways to further engage and support champions, and support their leadership within the collaborative.

Identifying and activating community-level champions

Influence /Power of stakeholders
Interest of stakeholders
Figure 1

High Power, Low Interest

Meet their needs
Keep Satisfied

High Power, High Interest

Key player
Engage Closely

Low Power, Low Interest

Least important
Minimal effort

Low Power, High Interest

Show consideration
Keep Informed

Activating champions also involves identifying individuals within the community who may not join the collaborative as an official member, but who can enable or inhibit the collaborative’s success. Start by listing all of the individuals, groups, and organizations interested in or impacted by the collaborative’s efforts. Then use the matrix in figure 1 to think about where each stakeholder falls in the interest or alignment with the collaborative’s goals and their influence or power over the collaborative’s success. Collaboratives can then prioritize which stakeholders to engage first. Highly interested, highly impactful individuals or organizations—for example, an elected official serving an economically under-resourced area or a local nonprofit with strong ties to the community—might be considered a high-priority stakeholder with whom a relationship should be developed and nurtured from the outset. Keep in mind that where someone sits in their organizational hierarchy does not always reflect the power and influence they hold. Collaboratives should focus instead on seeking out “super-connectors,” or highly connected people who are trusted voices in the community, with the relationships, network, and context needed to influence others.

[42] Helen Bevan, June 27, 2019, posted a blog, “Enabling Change and Change Leaders,” Horizons NHS, March 26th, 2024,

Sustaining momentum

Backbones and/or conveners should strive to maintain activated champions at all levels of each anchor institution. This level of engagement and relationship building will be ongoing and important for sustaining the collaborative over time. An important benefit of activating champions across levels of the anchor institution and departments is that the work becomes institutionalized and progress towards goals is not significantly deterred in the event of a key staff departure. Losing momentum is a common challenge in long-term partnerships, so building your “bench” is essential to protect continuity in engagement. As champions grow comfortable in their role as anchor mission advocates, the backbone can further support them in embedding the anchor mission across their organization, coaching peers, and continuing to involve them in the strategic planning of the collaborative.

Below are some ways to support champions in further embedding anchor mission commitments in their organization, supporting long-term viability and sustainability of the anchor collaborative:

  • Document key materials and be prepared to cultivate new champions as staff members cycle in and out.

  • Include information on the anchor mission and anchor collaborative in materials presented during new staff member orientations.

  • Add anchor mission language and duties related to anchor strategies directly into leaders’ and staff’s job descriptions. This sets the precedent from day one that engagement in anchor mission initiatives and the collaborative will be a responsibility.

  • Work with champions to think about how to embed anchor mission goals into the organization’s broader strategic plan and annual performance evaluations.

Finally, backbones should be sure to celebrate the collaborative’s wins, seek out opportunities to form new partnerships, and share progress in the community—as these are effective engagement strategies. Forums such as conferences, workshops, and online communities provide opportunities for champions to share their experiences, inspire others, and foster cross-pollination of ideas. By celebrating successes, champions elevate the anchor mission and encourage others to step up and join. This movement building can attract additional support, funding, and resources.

The Magic is in the Follow-up, OgdenCAN

“All of our relationships are built upon a foundation of trust. This type of relationship endures and provides the sustainability that is needed. We also try to engage with everyone based on the level of involvement that they express. To sustain the work, we continually add new positive energy through new board members and new network or committee members. Backbone staff are required in order to keep the work moving forward—the magic is in all of the follow-up that needs to happen.”


- Bill Cook, Executive Director, OgdenCAN

Continuum of Progress: Activated Champions

Although it is recommended that executive-level champions at anchor institutions are activated early on in the collaborative’s formation, the progression of activating champions is generally consistent, regardless of whether they are anchor institution executives, departmental leads, or community leaders. As champions emerge, they are learning about the anchor mission framework and how it can help them achieve institutional and broader community goals. As they become more activated, they take full ownership of their roles as champions, serve as leaders and mentors to others, and become strong enablers of advancing anchor strategies both within and beyond the organizations they represent.
Emerging champions are discovering the anchor collaborative's mission and exploring ways to contribute.
Champions understand what’s expected of them and can clearly articulate the goals of the collaborative and their role in supporting it within their institution and beyond.
Champions own their role and serve as true ambassadors of the anchor mission inside and outside their organization. They demonstrate commitment through reliable support, proactive contributions, and positioning others to step up as champions.
Champions begin to deepen their understanding of anchor mission principles. They actively listen and discuss core concepts.
Champions are comfortable discussing anchor mission principles and actively seek out ways their organization can set and meet their anchor mission commitments. 
Champions leverage their understanding of anchor mission principles to seek out opportunities to partner and expand the collaborative’s work. They think critically about how to build on the collaborative’s success and adjust the approach when necessary.
Champions demonstrate a keen interest and commitment to the collaborative through thoughtful participation in meetings and consistency in follow-up.
Champions build upon their growing knowledge and demonstrate leadership by engaging with others within the collaborative and across their organization, triaging requests as necessary. 
Champions emerge as collaborative leaders, guiding and inspiring others within the collaborative and their organizations. They actively mentor and empower emerging champions, fostering a culture of leadership and innovation.
The backbone begins to cultivate early champions and provides an additional layer of support and opportunities for them to demonstrate leadership (e.g. co-facilitation of meeting).
The backbone develops stronger relationships with champions and proactively identifies opportunities to share leadership responsibilities (e.g., strategic planning, co-leading meetings)
The backbone leverages the relationships with champions to establish processes, systems, and relationships that sustain momentum and create lasting impact.
Champion Mindset
I believe in the anchor mission and goals of the collaborative, and I am beginning to understand my role as a champion of it.
I am committed to my role as a champion, my participation is consistent and meaningful, I deliver on my commitments, and I dedicate resources to the mission.
I take responsibility for successes and challenges, I seek out opportunities for growth, I evangelize the work inside and outside my organization to bring others along.
Backbone Mindset
I have an idea of who my champions should be, and am actively working to understand their strengths, needs, and values.
I have built rapport with my champions and understand their motivations and limitations. I am strategic in providing opportunities for champions to become more activated.
I trust my champions to serve as ambassadors of the work, their leadership and guidance is the primary force advancing the collaborative’s goals.
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