The More We Get Together...
... the happier we'll be, right? Because then your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends. Isn't that how the old tune goes?
In theory, word and deed, I support partnerships and collaborations; however, somewhere deep in my heart or in the very back of my mind, there is something that keeps me from drinking the cooperative Kool-Aid. I am not sure what it is, and I am certain I cannot be the only person who feels that way.
A story of an interesting and seemingly successful "coming together" in Columbus, Ohio has forced me to re-examine my position on sharing, which is really at the heart of partnerships and collaboration - sharing and trust.
The Columbus Association for the Performing Arts is an arts management organization that handles the back office operations for many arts organizations in the area. Its roster of clients is impressive, including the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, which is an artistic leader and had been a managerial nightmare. The recession hit the Orchestra particularly hard. Outsourcing its ticketing operations, fundraising and marketing to CAPA saved the Columbus Symphony Orchestra approximately $750,000. It seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement, does it not? CAPA gets a happy client and the Orchestra saves money and can invest its energy into its mission - "to share great music with over a quarter million people in central Ohio through concerts, radio broadcasts, and special programming."
The story of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and CAPA might inspire other nonprofit organizations to consider sharing and partnering, especially given the current economic climate. In fact, I used to be shared staff of two youth services organizations that shared office space, technological support and a few administrative positions, including mine.
Especially when it comes to something like "back office" expenses, the cost for a business (or other nonprofit organization) to do bookkeeping, marketing, advertising, graphic design and payroll for a number of organizations versus the cost for each organization to do it individually speaks for itself. For example, when public relations professional and CAPA employee Terrence Womble purchases ad space for his clients, he does so in bulk, getting a better rate.
In New York, I stumbled upon a great opportunity for area nonprofits to decrease their administrative costs with regard to direct mail, data and fulfillment - Back Office New York, an affiliate of The Doe Fund. If a nonprofit is struggling to fund its programs and can barely put the money together to send out an appeal, perhaps Back Office New York (another nonprofit) could help, and by using their services, more people are positively impacted than originally planned.
Across the country there are nonprofit incubator systems, spaces where nonprofits are located together to cut costs, and other methods for sharing, collaborating and partnering. In recent years, I have even seen organizations come together more often for events. For example an AIDS research benefit held at a museum would help both the research organization and the museum. The invite lists are merged, the red carpet is rolled out, the auction is expanded and the dancing goes until dawn!
The case for partnership is strong. We all know (and have said) the mantras: "Together Each Achieves More", "Teamwork makes the dream work" and so on and so forth. Even funders collaborate and encourage their grantees to do so as well. Partnership is not only efficient, it is also effective.
So why do I still hesitate? What is it about playing in the sandbox that makes me wonder if it's not really a sand trap?... Any other reluctant collaborators out there?
I do believe that partnerships are an integral ingredient to the recipe for success for the sector. I am just a bit skeptical of all the hands reaching out because they are attached to bodies that hold minds that come with their own agendas, and that can get tricky - in nonprofits, in families, in communities and in any other areas where interpersonal relations exist. However, I suppose the good outweighs the bad. Right?
What's that visualization about the difference between Heaven and Hell? That in Heaven and Hell people are sitting a banquet and everyone has these enormously long utensils. It's the same menu and same utensil length in Heaven as it is in Hell. The difference is that in Heaven, people feed each other while in Hell people grow frustrated with their hunger because they are only concerned with feeding themselves, an impossible feat given the resources.
I guess the more practice we get on helping one another now the better.