Chicago's Back Office Cooperative Offers Nonprofit Partnership Lessons

Posted on April 04, 2012 by Pam Truitt

I just finished reading "Change Comes at a Cost", a case study about the development of the Chicago-based Back Office Cooperative(BOC). There are so many twists, turns and lessons that the Back Office Cooperative might do well to consider a TV mini-series.

This might help them financially. Humor aside, the fact that it’s up and running is remarkable. Although the case study is long, it’s well worth the read.

I’ll share my views about the concept up front. I concur with the original leaders that sharing back office services is an excellent way for nonprofits to obtain higher quality services with much less hassle. The Patterson Foundation is funding facilitators to help nonprofits interested in shaving costs and increasing services by funding facilitators.

As the story unfolds, we learn that a McKinsey & Company study projected that about $100 million annually could be realized through joint purchasing and consolidating administrative operations for 22 of Chicago’s largest and most stable nonprofits. The drama begins almost as soon as the process goes from study to implementation. I could write about many aspects of the Back Office Cooperative, but I’ve decided to zero in on the process.

There is no question in my mind that what they were trying to achieve was monumental.  Everyone admitted that a platform of that scale had never been tried. At some level, those involved determined that the top-down approach was appropriate. I wasn’t in their shoes and certainly won’t criticize their decisions. I wonder if they get a ‘do again’ (this is not the same as a ‘do over’) if they will consider a grassroots approach.

There will always be tension between what nonprofits and funders believe they need to do to spiral up. Many folks deal with professional change as if it were the same as learning your cranky ole Mother-in-law has suddenly decided she wants to live out her days from your bedroom.

Would a conversation about the change (one that included a process to address your concerns and fears) be helpful?

Please share your thoughts about the Back Office Cooperative in the comments below.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.