Greater Impact Through Creative Collaboration

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At a fundraiser for Forklift Danceworks celebrating their recent performance of The Trees of Govalle, Austin composer and bandleader Graham Reynolds described the project’s creative collaboration among choreographers, composers, musicians and City of Austin Urban Forestry employees. He said that the process of working collaboratively with other artists enriches the end product: “I feel that I am a much better composer when working in collaboration than I am composing by myself at home.”

For artists and nonprofit leaders alike, the “secret sauce” of success is often the alchemy of creative collaboration. We are all trying to make a difference by pursuing our mission, but nonprofits are often limited by the scope of their efforts and available resources. This “isolated impact” describes a single organization’s attempt to address a broad social issue when change requires a collaborative effort of organizations within and outside of that organization’s sector.

Creative collaborators look at a social challenge and see the solution coming from a variety of entities (e.g., nonprofit, governmental, business, education) involved with the same challenge. In essence, they ask: “Can I have more impact on social change by collaborating with the right partner(s)?”

Creative collaborations look different depending on the problem and organizations trying to solve it. They may be:

  • Small-scale partnerships like sharing staff, space or office equipment to have more impact by operating more efficiently,
  • Public-private partnerships to enrich neighborhood planning (e.g., 2014 Greenlights Accelerator participant Fusebox received and Art Place America grant to partner with developers, City of Austin, and others to creatively plan a 25 acre project in East Austin – “thinkEAST” – incorporating artistic and neighborhood input into the front end of this planned development),
  • Two or more organizations providing same or similar services who decide to merge in order to serve a broader base of clients,
  • Cross-sector organizations to address a specific issue (e.g., the nonprofit The Arc of Indiana partnered with Courtyard by Marriott, the City of Muncie, a hospital foundation, the state of Indiana, and others to create a Training Institute and convention center hotel to provide employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities), or
  • Large collective impact collaborations taking on big issues like education, affordable housing, transportation, homelessness and foster care, such as Greenlights’ work on the Travis County Collaborative for Children.

Greenlights is trying to stir the creative collaboration pot through initiatives such as Member Meet-ups, AustinNext, and Mission Driven. We know that getting the right people and minds in the same room can result in collaborative relationships, new partnerships, and good old Texas “everybody pitch in ‘n git ‘er done.”

Take a few minutes to think about the societal issues – large or small – that you are trying to address and then come up with a list of people and/or entities that collectively have the ability to be part of the solution. Who are the natural partners, creative collaborators who can help you make more impact … and who are unlikely but potential partners you might need to engage? By taking this first step you are that much closer to making more impact than you ever thought possible.


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