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Matt Beem
President, Kinetic Companies, Inc.

Wake up and smell the coffee

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<SATURDAY, May 03, 2008Saturday, June 20, 2009

LAFAYETTE, Ind. – QuikTrip has a satellite in Kansas City’s Sprint Center, but it’s a galaxy away from Starbucks’ universe of ubiquity.

At first, the Seattle-born coffee shops were strictly stand-alone operations. No more.

Today, there’s a Starbuck’s on every corner – and one halfway down the block.

Didn’t have time to grab this morning’s Joe at your regular drive-through window? No worries. Swing by Hy-Vee, hit Barnes and Noble or – if you’re here – breeze by the Marriott Courtyard Bistro or the walk-up Starbuck’s in Indianapolis’ new airport.

I’m not dissing QuikTrip. Those of you who read this column regularly know I prefer QT’s dark roast over Starbuck’s overpriced blend.

I’m talking about the power of partnerships – an energy Starbuck’s has harnessed like no other organization on Earth.

For-profit companies may have trouble replicating Starbuck’s omnipresence, but the partnership market is wide open for nonprofit organizations. At least for now.

Just off Creasy Lane in this northwestern Indiana city sits the Ivy Tech Community College Lafayette Campus. It’s a huge boon to the predominately working-class community, less than 75 percent of whose high school graduates attend college. Across Indiana, Ivy Tech’s 23 campuses annually enroll more than 120,000 students, making it one of the largest community college systems in the nation.

For Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana and the Lafayette Family YMCA, a partnership with Ivy Tech seems ready made. Ivy Tech thinks teaming up makes sense, too.

That’s why the three organizations are coming together to build several shared facilities on the Ivy Tech Lafayette Campus. The structures will be designed to help the organizations meet their missions more effectively.

Although the three agencies have just begun pulling together the $100 million their partnership will require, the quest bares lessons for nonprofit leaders striving to innovate in these economic times.

·    Size up your strengths – Every organization does something better than most. Ivy Tech helps young people navigate higher education’s path, and Junior Achievement sparks their flame of entrepreneurship. The YMCA provides a safe, accessible environment for families to improve their health and fitness. What are your strengths?

·    Understand your weaknesses – None of us is good at everything. Higher education institutions often miss opportunities to serve students’ families. Junior Achievement does little for those who want to get into shape, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a class on entrepreneurship at the YMCA. What are your weaknesses?

·    Pick your partners – Who can make you better than you are alone? Ivy Tech believes programming for children and families will enrich students’ professional and personal lives. Junior Achievement sees the opportunity to connect students directly to higher education as a valuable extension of its mission. For the YMCA, exposing members to self-improvement opportunities will expand its suite of services.

Some nonprofit organizations shy away from partnerships for fear they’ll drain essential philanthropic resources. They often have the opposite effect.

In recent meetings here, representatives of the YMCA, Junior Achievement and Ivy Tech identified significant philanthropic potential for their joint initiative. Though they’re just beginning work together, all three organizations believe their donors will be compelled to give more to their partnership than they would to any one of the three organizations.

Who are your potential partners? What are you doing to stimulate their sense of what’s possible through collaboration?

If Starbuck’s can do it, so can you. Go for it.

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