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Nonprofit collaboration in Providence, Rhode Island

November 29, 2010

Every so often, I make jokes about how Massachusetts is the Silo State, and Rhode Island is the Pilot Project State.  This is overstating the truth, but there’s no doubt that the nonprofit/philanthropic cultures of the two states are quite different, and there’s plenty to be learned outside of my home base.

Therefore, I was quite pleased when Gayle Gifford of Cause & Effect invited me to a meeting in Providence, Rhode Island of nonprofit and philanthropic professionals who are interested in shared facilities, shared back-office services, and other collaborative arrangements.  The meeting took place at the headquarters of the Providence Plan, and Marti Rosenberg, the executive director of New Roots Providence, served with great skill as the facilitator.

I spent a few minutes giving the group a briefing about the ongoing work of developing web-based tools that might assist them in various aspects of their collaborative work, but the most important task for me at that meeting was listening, and doing my best to understand the state of nonprofit collaboration in Providence.  Copies were distributed of an excellent slide deck by Jane Arsenault of FIO Partners; it outlined a range of options in strategic partnerships from informal coordination to formal mergers. There was much talk around the table of a “Collaborate, Cooperate, Innovate” meeting the previous January, and of a “Building for Sustainable Communities” conference earlier this month.

It seems that, having done considerable homework, this group now has questions on their minds about the practicalities of finding, raising money for, and using facilities that they can share.

This reminds me very vividly of what a treasure Jackie Cefola is – she’s Third Sector New England’s NonProfit Center program manager.  There are so many questions that she can answer about creating a shared space, organizing shared services, and fostering programs that bring the tenants together as a community.  When I look at the nonprofit management videos we’ve done thus far, I see that we’ve succeeded in tapping into Jackie’s knowledge about green building practices for nonprofits – but that we haven’t captured in video format her expertise regarding the practical arrangements that enable nonprofit organizations to consolidate their operations by sharing resources.

My current thought experiment is to envision Jackie at this meeting in Providence, sitting at the table with the nonprofit and philanthropic professionals.  What would they want to ask her?  What are the best practices that she would want to share? Can we work with Jackie capture this sort of content on video? How many other groups – in New England, or the United States – are sitting around tables asking questions about sharing arrangements?  I hope that we can find ways for the Nonprofit Management Resources project to serve them.

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