Overcome Challenges thru Collaboration

The Luna Theater Company hosted an open house for the kick-off of its special fundraising campaign. What made this event unusual was the fact that Luna does not have a “house” to open. Since its first season in 2002, Luna has performed on a number of stages in Philadelphia.

Pew at Church of the CrucifixionNot having a home of its own, Luna hosted its open house at the Church of the Crucifixion. Confused? Let me explain.

The collaboration between the theater company and the church is an excellent example of how nonprofit organizations, even those with seemingly very different missions, can come together to help each other meet their unique challenges.

Crucifixion is an historic church. It is the sixth oldest African-American Episcopal Church in the United States. W.E.B. Du Bois, the historian, civil rights activist, and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was a member of the parish as was famed opera singer Marian Anderson. Unfortunately, with age comes a need for renovation and maintenance.

In the Crucifixion parish house, there is a large auditorium. It’s a bland, empty room with an ugly drop ceiling. While the parish priest would like to renovate the room to its historic beauty by revealing the high, vaulted ceiling that exists above, pressing maintenance needs and limited funds make this project an unfortunately low priority.

Luna Theater (Twitter: @LunaTheaterCo)Luna is a young, vibrant theater company producing intimate, intelligent, and intense work that delves into the human psyche with an emphasis on the tragic-comic. Luna wants a permanent 99-seat home. This will give Luna more flexibility for its various programs and productions. It will help it build its own identity with its audiences. And, it will help control its costs. But, building a theater is a massive, cost-prohibitive undertaking for a small theater company.

That’s where Partners for Sacred Places came in. Partners is a national nonprofit organization working with religious congregations to ensure that their older sacred places remain a rich and vital part of the social fabric of a community. Partners helped facilitate the collaboration between Luna and Crucifixion.

For approximately $100,000 that it will raise, Luna will be able to renovate the parish house auditorium to its specifications. And, it will have a home. In the process, Crucifixion will have a major renovation project completed without neglecting more immediate maintenance projects. In addition, the church will be able to use the auditorium for its own programs and to host other community groups. This will increase traffic to the church, introduce it to new people, and better serve the community.

So, the free open-house event, jointly hosted by Crucifixion and Luna made perfect sense. It gave parishioners, theater goers, and the community an opportunity to learn about the new collaboration and see the space that will soon house the theater company.

While a religious institution and a provocative theater company seemingly have very different missions, these two groups were able to find common ground to help meet the needs of each organization and the community that they both serve.

And, as the Rev. Peter F. Grandell told me, the missions of the two organizations really are not as different as it might first appear. Both are trying to help people question themselves and the world as they explore important issues. Both are in the business of helping people enrich their lives in meaningful ways.

Finding common ground is the gateway to strong, effective, mutually-beneficial collaborations. For Crucifixion and Luna, is it a match made in heaven? While time will tell, they’re certainly off to a good start.

To build a successful collaboration:

1. Identify your organization’s needs.

2. Determine how your organization can help another.

3. Find prospective collaboration partners.

4. Build a relationship on mutual trust, respect, and common ground.

5. Share the opportunities and the success.

So, has your organization thought about how it can collaborate with another organization to better meet its needs and better serve the public? I’d like to hear some stories of successful collaborations and what made them successful.

Or, if you’re feeling up to it, I’d even like to hear some stories of some collaborations that failed and why.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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8 Responses to “Overcome Challenges thru Collaboration”

  1. Michael.

    I am a huge believer in collaboration. We can achieve more when working together.

    The method I use with my business is a perfect example of collaboration. Greater Good Fundraising uses environmentally based projects as a means for schools and low budget nonprofits to raise money for their programs and activities. One organization has a project it wants completed but really doesn’t have the budget to pay employees to do the job or the manpower to get it done. School groups or nonprofits provide the labor and obtain business and individual donors who sponsor the group to do the work. One group gets its job done, and the other reaps the financial rewards and builds their donor base. It’s a win-win situation for the group with the project, the group raising money, the community, and the donors. Those sponsoring the groups tend to give more because they see a greater value in their donation, and because they are not receiving a personal benefit like a product or service, their donations are tax deductible.

  2. McNeese State University and Calcasieu Community Clinic, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization serving working, low-income and uninsured residents in southwest Louisiana, began a successful collaboration in 2001 that is still vibrant today.

    Calcasieu Community Clinic started in Lake Charles, LA after hearing of other free clinics throughout the U.S. Beginning with a $10,000 donation from the local medical society, plans got underway. Within a year, the board of directors were looking for a location to house the clinic.

    McNeese, a public university, was opening a new nursing building on campus which included a clinic wing for the staff and students to offer a shots program for children. Upon hearing of the free clinic, McNeese administration approached Calcasieu Community Clinic board members about opening the Clinic in the nursing building on campus.

    Services began Feb. 2001 and continue to this day. Calcasieu Community Clinic operates on the campus free of charge including no rent, utilities, or maintenance costs which has saved the non-profit significantly.

    Collaboration works!!!

  3. Having engaged and sometimes been a lead on some pretty intensive collaborative efforts, including for example co-location, I find that the most common error is failure to appreciate the importance of organizational cultures in developing a partnership. Something as basic as “How long does it take to make a decision and act on it” for example – some agencies need a committee to order a pencil, whereas others can make major strategic shifts in a matter of days. I find those types of considerations are often far more important than whether or not mission statements appear to be in alignment or even if there is a clear mutual interest. “How you work” is always going to impact on the efficacy of a partnership in surprising ways.

    • Keenan, thank you for your comment. You’ve made an excellent point. Organizational cultures are certainly an important consideration when looking at opportunities for collaboration. Some cultural differences may be deal-breakers. In other cases, effective collaboration is still possible if their are cultural differences, provided those differences are accommodated. In any case, it is essential to be aware of what the cultural differences are.

  4. Yes, because you’ll seldom see organizational cultural considerations on anyone’s partnership checklist, usually the deal-breakers don’t get identified until well after the deal has been done.

    To blow things wide open and have some fun, when considering something like a space-sharing arrangement, one need only discuss parking, security, coffee, and sink-cleaning for a matter of minutes (usually one of those topics is enough) before it will quickly be revealed that a desire to change the community is no match for everyday annoyances and that there are just not enough committee hours in the world 🙂

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