This is the third in a series of Gardner Reports encouraging Northwest Arkansas NPOs to consider cooperative, collaborative or consolidative approaches to surviving and thriving in our challenging economy. Our current challenges empower us to think outside the box.
The Buffalo Arts Administrative Pilot
The summer issue of the “Board Source Journal “contains an informative article by Laurie Dean Torrell, Executive Director of the Just Buffalo Literary Center in Buffalo, NY. Her premise is “To preserve, protect and expand your mission in turbulent times, consider collaboration.”
In the article Laurie chronicles a pilot project launched in 2005 among three Buffalo arts NPOs: Just Buffalo Literary Center, CEPA Gallery and Big Orbit Gallery/Sound Lab. She reports on a successful three-year administrative collaboration project that serves as a thoughtful model for NPO partnering.
She reports that, “Since formally launching the thee-year pilot in 2005, our organizations have experienced tremendous progress in terms of board and staff development, revenue diversification and expanded visibility. Individual contributions increased 300%, corporate funding 200% and membership 22%. Each organization’s programming has been significantly enhanced, bringing new programs to the community and new exhibitions of unprecedented scale and scope.”
Laurie continues, “Unexpected benefits have included a decreased sense of isolation, the magic of proximity fosters new programmatic collaborations and we feed off of each other’s creativity - at the executive, staff and board levels.”
She concludes, “Bigger and ever-new challenges await, such as ever deeper state funding cuts (to the arts), developing a joint education program and continuing to meet the needs of three unique and diverse collaborative partners. One thing we know for sure: We will be able to find the answers together.”
What Did Buffalo Arts Groups Do?
The three arts NPOs have different cultures, work styles and missions. They have separate views on a range of administration topics. They did share a belief that collaborating or sharing “back office” operations could result in cost savings, increased efficiency and strengthening each organization.
After over a year of working together in a collaboration committee that met quarterly, the three NPO boards agreed to partner in five different areas:
1. Two NPOs agreed to share office space to reduce overhead, increase proximity and streamline operations.
2. They combined their finances and hired a shared administrative assistant, a shared graphic designer and a shared grant writer.
3. They realized operational savings by sharing equipment, development software, phone and Internet service packages, maintenance contracts and purchasing.
4. They increased their organizational efficiency by pooling their volunteers, interns and board members. They maximized their specialized skills and offered education programs.
5. They jointly hired a fundraising consultant. They found that as they became more focused on fundraising they needed even more guidance of fundraising counsel to continue education programs for the boards and volunteers and to help with enhanced annual giving, planned giving and donor recognition programs.
The Buffalo NPOs learned that pooling their staff and consultant talent allowed them to be able to afford to recruit top-notch talent. They found that the increased proximity and collaboration resulted in expanded capacity, reduced isolation, creation of a built-in “brain trust” and “in-house” support and problem solving system.
Learn more at www.boardsource.org.
What Can Gardner & Associates Do To Help Your NPO?
Gardner & Associates has a successful track record in helping NPOs maximize their resources, volunteers and staff. Consider just four exams that we can help you gauge your NPO’s organizational strength:
1. Audit service, communications, rental and utility contracts.
2. Audit internal and external communication vehicles and policies.
3. Inventory staff, board and volunteer skills/interests/demographics to assure a diverse mix.
4. Audit NPO marketing/publicity, board recruitment and development and giving programs.
Just like your annual financial audit these four reviews can help to accurately gauge areas of strength and opportunity. These four exams can be completed in a two-day consulting session and lead to a specific plan of action that will lead to defined deliverables. Just like the Buffalo experience, Gardner & Associates will help you discern your current status and your options for action.
Gardner & Associates welcome the opportunity to learn about your needs and concerns and to provide a custom proposal to address them.