This article was included in the special edition publication in honor of Black History Month. The theme for Youthprise’s 2014 Black History Month Celebration is “Honoring our Common Heritage and Promoting Solidarity.”

Collaborative Development: A New Vision for Disrupting and Dismantling a System That Divides Us

Shaquan Foster

In continuing their mission to champion learning beyond the classroom so that all Minnesota youth may thrive, Youthprise has recently entered into a partnership with three Twin Cities–based organizations: The Givens Foundation for African American Literature, Juxtaposition Arts, and the Saint Paul Almanac. This partnership has founded a monumentally unique collaborative development model to evolve the world of development through our shared practices and values. 

The development profession, like many of the systems in place in our society today, can be very exclusionary, held within the confines of established practice. In our collaborative development project, we hope to put forth a tangible example of cooperation, inclusion, and reciprocity that can be replicated, not only within our own organizations, but also by other groups. We also hope that this project will be a successful example of working outside of the norms of established industries, institutions, and systems. 

We aim to reach out to and break the silos that separate organizations across the board. By paying special attention to the disenfranchised groups that we serve and partnering with established sources of power, we can disabuse ourselves of the social constructions (e.g., race, ethnicity, class) that divide us.

This publication is an example of our common values and intention to break down the silos that separate funding opportunities, organizations, and communities. The writers of the articles come from diverse African American communities and are affiliated with Juxtaposition Arts and the Saint Paul Almanac. To celebrate Youthprise’s Black History Month, the theme for this publication is “Honoring our Common Heritage and Promoting Solidarity.” The articles included in this publication are intended to illustrate the common heritage but different histories of the various Minnesota African American communities and to promote the similarities among them and the solidarity that can arise. 

Initially, Youthprise served as a funder for our various programs individually. Impressed by the collaborative development project, Youthprise began to take a more involved supportive role in the collaboration. As a result, the project has grown even more innovative and hopes to increase its success.

Originally, to diversify and strengthen the fundraising strategies for our community-based arts programs, we planned to hire one development officer, who would work in concert with each organization. Upon further consideration, we changed the plan to hire a development manager and “development apprentices” to work as a team. This team’s work includes development tasks, such as grant writing and donor management, and now incorporates media communications and event planning.

We feel that hiring youth to be educated and paid as apprentices falls in line with our values to mentor youth and better maximizes our efforts. The three apprentices—Shaunté Douglas, Gozong Lor, and I—led by manager Lisa Steinmann, come from the Saint Paul Almanac, where we have worked or currently work as editors. The most important feature of the team is that our cohort not only receives education in development, but we also practice development and work in conjunction with the executive officers of each organization.

Youth/adult partnerships are central to Youthprise’s mission. As an organization, they incorporate youth’s voices throughout their work; they employ young people, recruit youth board members, and seek partnerships with organizations that model youth/adult partnerships. This mentorship is a natural continuation of the work each organization is already doing with their youth affiliates. Youthprise, Juxtaposition Arts, and Saint Paul Almanac have a commitment to working with youth and providing them with the opportunity to gain leadership experience and to secure employment. In this new partnership, youth learn to work as grant writers and fundraisers and to serve on boards of organizations. 

The idea for this venture stemmed from a shared need to increase our fund development. Kim Klein, publisher and editor of Grassroots Fundraising Journal and the author of Fundraising for Social Change, writes that the following are prerequisites for organizations to partake in successful fundraising collaborations: “The groups have similar values and they trust each other. Ideally, groups will have even worked together on other efforts. The division of money and labor is decided beforehand. Although the donations raised cannot be predicted, each group is getting donations from their own list. The reward must be greater than if each group had attempted the strategy on its own.”  Klein’s comments are indicative of how our collaboration works.

Though the organizations are very different in geographical areas, participants, audiences, sizes in staff and funding, and business models, we found common values that are foundational to our plan. They are both shared organizational values and personal values put forth by Paul Schmitz of Public Allies in his book, Everyone Leads. The values are recognizing and mobilizing community assets, connecting across cultures, facilitating collaborative action, continuously learning and improving, and being accountable.

As a group, we have agreed to investigate growing our development capacity. Over the course of two years, we plan to continually research collaborative development models, talk with industry professionals, and reconvene to hone our plan. We believe our organizations can use these shared values to increase our development capacity and knowledge, build trusting long-term relationships with each other, successfully raise new money for each of our institutions, measure our successes and failures, apply lessons learned, and share them with the broader community.

For More Information:

For more than forty years, The Givens Foundation for African American Literature has been the only organization in the Twin Cities exclusively dedicated to advancing and celebrating black literature and writers for diverse audiences of all ages.

Juxtaposition Arts develops community by engaging and employing young urban artists in hands-on education. Students have opportunities to be employed while learning and teaching professional design, production, and marketing skills.

The Saint Paul Almanac is a literary organization that creates opportunities for understanding, learning, and building relationships through sharing people’s stories. This mission is primarily accomplished through collaborative decision making in publication activities, public readings, and mentorships.