Innovation: A Partnership between Botanical Gardens and Developmental Services Operation

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January 27, 2012; Source: Grand Junction Free Press | Mergers and partnerships in the nonprofit sector seem to occur most frequently when there is some element of similarity in the missions of the two organizations, which is why news of this 90-day trial partnership between the Grand Junction, Colorado-based Western Colorado Botanical Gardens and Mesa Developmental Services (MDS) comes as a surprise. According to the Grand Junction Free Press, the partnership has already saved the botanical gardens from risk of closing and has also opened up some new administrative and programmatic possibilities for both organizations.

On paper, one might see few similarities between the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens, a 15-year-old organization with a full-time staff of one, and MDS, a 46-year-old organization that employs 375 people and serves about 650 children and adults with developmental disabilities throughout the region. The Free Press notes that the initial link between the two organizations started a few months ago when the president of the board of the botanical gardens, Jon Schler, made it public that the organization was at risk of closing because of a lack of funds. MDS CEO Jeff Nichols then went to his board to explore possible administrative arrangements that might benefit both organizations.

The resulting three-month plan essentially provides a means for the botanical gardens to offset some debt and save costs by operating under the protection of Mesa Developmental Services. MDS CEO Nichols will serve as acting executive director and his staff will provide additional support to the botanical gardens’ single staff person, and presumably its board, in the areas of budgeting and financial planning, strategic planning and public relations. As the temporary new administrative center for the botanical gardens, MDS will also provide computer hosting, telephone support and information systems assistance.

According to the Free Press, at least part of MDS’s rationale for providing this aid is to cultivate the botanical gardens as a “vocational training” and “community volunteer site” for its own audience. “Experience gained through volunteering at the gardens could also lead to employment for MDS clients at other businesses,” botanical gardens president Schler told the Free Press. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of this partnership after the 90-day mark. –Anne Eigeman