Guest Series: RAM's Teri Coutu

December 8, 2011 11 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In a new series, Metro Jacksonville takes a step back to listen to, promote, and discuss the editorials, personal accounts, and vocal opinions of some of the key players in the preservation and progression of our urban core. This week, Riverside Arts Market Director Teri Coutu speaks on the benefits of partnerships, so as businesses, organizations, and the community end up with win-win-win results.

There is no question that the economy is having a negative impact on all areas of business, and some of the hardest hit are the nonprofit organizations. In two separate studies, nonprofit organizations indicated that the decline in the U.S. economy continues to impact their operations. As budget cuts, unemployment, and poverty rise, the request for nonprofit services also increase. But when financial support diminishes, and requests for services go up, many organizations buckle. Rather than turn inward and try to weather the storm independently, progressive businesses see the benefits of working together and creating win-win-win partnerships.

From its inception, RAM was developed to provide a fun, family-friendly venue in Jacksonville where local artisans and farmer/growers could sell their goods, and thereby help sustain themselves and the local economy. Without RAM, many of the artists and vendors would be out of work and/or in need of financial support and various social services. However, with low-cost booths and more than 5,000 visitors each week, approved artists are finding RAM to be a strong ally in the sustainability of their business. Similarly, the Market provides a ready-made venue for businesses looking for year-round, high-impact marketing opportunities, and a successful site for nonprofit organizations looking to increase awareness of their services and/or cause.  Looking at it realistically, however, the resulting success at RAM isn’t due to the “Market” in and of itself, it is a direct result of businesses working together symbiotically.

The One, Two, Three Approach

In the past, I have worked with or for companies that felt the need to protect what they saw as their share of the money in their industry. The culture was often negative, suspicious, and defensive. And over time, I watched several fail. But failure does not need to be an option.  Businesses and organizations can more effectively survive a poor economy when they use their collective strengths to benefit themselves and the people they serve. The simple solution is to find the right businesses to work with, and create a win-win-win atmosphere where both organizations win (win-win) AND the community wins, too, (win-win-win).

The first step is to identify a business with a similar culture, quality, and dedication to the partnership, and then have an honest discussion about the goals and objectives of each organization, as well as the “deal-breaker” lines that should not be crossed.
Partnering organizations should then identify the specific strengths and weaknesses they bring to the table, and determine how they can help fill in the gaps together, and/or what they can do together to get the most benefit. For instance, through staff and volunteer sharing, cross-marketing, or joint media buying, businesses can save their resources and benefit greatly from their partnership.

The third step is to recognize the partnership in a formal way. Essentially, the partnering businesses are “sponsoring” each other by providing in-kind support, and a signed agreement helps spell out the responsibilities and expectations of both businesses, increasing the likelihood of success.

Imagine the efficiencies (and financial benefits) that could occur if governmental agencies, national and regional businesses, nonprofit organizations, and local businesses would create partnerships based on filling in gaps through in-kind support and resource sharing, rather than the dollar-focused expectations that are prominent in today’s business. Yes, there IS some partnering occurring in various business arenas, and I am happy to say that at RAM we have had several good partnerships that produced win-win-win results. Still, there are many businesses and organizations that could find the help they need by simply working with their neighbor.

I am realistic enough to understand that money is essential - we all have bills to pay. And some organizations may worry that by exposing their customers/clients/members to a new group they may lose even more financial support, and support in itself. Still, while it may be a cliche, I have always found that working together, rather than against each other, “Together Everyone Achieves More.” And, isn’t achieving more part of every good business plan?

Editorial by Teri Coutu.