November 28, 2010; Source: Crain’s Detroit Business [Registration Required] | While many talk about or play at collaboration, small arts groups in Michigan are making it happen. Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings is at the center of it all because since 1992 it has used collaboration to expand its own capacity—along with the capacity of its partners. It has operational collaborations with six other nonprofits now and expects to add an additional two at the first of the year. You name it, these guys think its fodder for collaboration; relationships include sharing staff and back office services, doing joint promotion programs that provide tickets and passports to the arts, and creating cultural exchanges. They even share leadership and musicians. For instance, Maury Okun is the executive director of Detroit Chamber Winds, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival and Eisenhower Dance. He also plays trombone at Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings and the Michigan Opera Theatre’s orchestra. The various partners in this effort to create critical mass for arts groups include Great Lakes Chamber Music, Eisenhower Dance Ensemble, Rackham Symphony Choir, and the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan. Recently Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings received a $200,000 grant from the Michigan Nonprofit Association to extend its marketing, fundraising and other services to two incoming partners.

Many believe that capacity building is something done to rather than by an organization. In these times it is powerful to see what can be done by using a slightly different “design” for organizational growth and sustainability. This model seems like one that should be studied across the country by organizations struggling with the burden of separate administrative, marketing and fundraising systems. We hope to hear more as they progress and we’d love to hear your strategies to build capacity even in these times of relative scarcity.—Ruth McCambridge