Museum Association of Arizona


2011 Annual Conference Keynote Address

Wesley O. Brustad, keynoter for the 2011 MAA conference in Yuma, delivered such a cogent, informative, inspirational, and, finally, imminently functional presentation that several conference attendees requested copies. Wes was kind enough to prepare an abbreviated version that could go on the website for all MAA members to access--both for those who heard his talk first-hand and for those who could not be with us in Yuma.



Wesley O. Brustad, nonprofit manager
April 14, 2011


Over 15,000 new nonprofits will have entered our ranks,
competing for our funds, in the first four months of 2011.

We are playing Russian Roulette, BUT all six chambers are loaded rather than just one.  Six bullets!  Folks, we can’t keep pulling the trigger and hope they miss us.

Bullet Number One:  There are too many of us!  The marketplace is too crowded with options, and too fragmented for most institutions to go it alone any longer.

Bullet Number Two:  Our audiences are shrinking.

Bullet Number Three:  Funding is dissipating as organizations increase

Bullet Number Four:  There is too much duplication of effort

Bullet Number Five:  There are too few leaders to carry the banner

Bullet Number Six:  Leisure time is not only diminishing but is more re-directed to spectacle, multi-sensory experiences... a kaleidoscope of the senses.

Ladies and gentlemen, the stress is real, and it is severe.

In a study released two years ago by John Hopkins University titled “Impact of the 2007-09 Economic Recession on Nonprofit Organizations,”

83% reported some level of fiscal stress and
40% considered the stress to be severe or very severe.

The arts were particularly hit hard:

73% of theatres and 50% of orchestras considered the stress to be severe or very severe.


I got the message eleven years ago:  there is a universal principle called INESCAPABLE INTERDEPENDENCE. 

It goes like this: No single entity has all the inputs necessary to address an identified social need effectively.

The good news is that no matter what you need, there is someone who has it.  And that someone is your potential partner.

Friends, if you don’t collaborate, you’re working too hard for too little.  There is simply not enough audience, not enough donors, not enough volunteers, and not enough energy to spread among the dozens of lone wolf arts and cultural organizations in your community in the 21st century. 

My charge to you today is to find a partner for every project you undertake, and make each partnership a strategic business relationship.

I want to share with you this morning four principles or truths about collaborations.


Collaborations---partnerships, strategic alliances, mergers, whatever form you take---are vehicles for achieving your mission.  They enable you to build on strengths and gain competitive advantage through access to your partner’s resources.  In short, Collaborations create value and Competency.

To collaborate means to be open to compromise.  It means operating in an atmosphere of trust and openness with organizations who may not think like we do.   It requires flexibility and a new creativity that is frightening.  It means SHARING.

You see, collaboration is the joining of two or more organizations to exchange resources, share risks, and divide rewards from a joint enterprise.

Do you get this?  Do you see progression?

To get to the rewards, you first must exchange and share.


The second principle that I want you to grasp is that COLLABORATIONS COME IN MANY COLORS.

Collaborations are nothing more than another leadership tool to be used as the environment changes.  Think of them as possible avenues to fulfill your strategies.  Here are just a few options you can pursue when collaborating. 

  1. First, a simple informal handshake relationship to work together, usually on a specific project (e.g., a special exhibition) .  This does not involve a permanent commitment.  Each participant shares in the risk and benefits of the endeavor.
  2. Strategic Alliances are the most common.  These are formal partnerships usually in writing--defining the roles of each organization for administrative consolidation and/or joint programming. 
  3. A third collaboration option is the Asset Transfer.  The corporations remain separate but the assets of one are “purchased” by the other (this may be for cash, but usually for a commitment to continue the organization’s mission). This usually is considered when an organization is in crisis and cannot sustain its mission. 
  4. Fourth, a Consortium is an alliance of member organizations, each of whom are independent.  Members pool their resources towards achieving a common goal. 
  5. A Joint venture corporation functions best when 3 or more organizations are involved.  This option creates a new organization in which partners share governance.  An example may be a management services organization to integrate administrative functions.
  6. We’ve saved the best for last:  Merger.  All functions are integrated through the dissolution of one or more organizations or the creation of a new merged organization.

The Collaboration Continuum

To enable us to think strategically about collaborations, we need a framework that forces us to envision different options and directions the partnership may take.  James Austin says “Knowing where you are is critical to deciding where you want to be.”

In his book, The Collaboration Challenge, he designed the Collaboration Continuum to assess relationships between two or more organizations. 

It’s rather simple.  He claims there are three Collaboration Phases:  Philanthropic . . . . Transactional . . . . . Integrative.  



Who are our partners?  With whom should we be collaborating?  Where do we find them?  Let me jump start your thinking to the wide palette of potential partners waiting for you to approach them with a big idea . . . an idea they have never thought of because you, like them, are not on their radar screen.

DON’T LIMIT YOUR THINKING!  It’s not the type of organization that should concern you;  rather, it’s can you help each other by working together.  Are you compatible?  Will you maximize your return and minimize your risk?

Ensuring Strategic Fit

How do you do this? 

Whether it’s a simple collaboration on a very specific project or a merger involving a total revamp of finances and programming, the process must start with assessment.   Remember:  absolute honesty is essential.  Do not kid yourself about yourself or about your prospective partner.

  1. Self Assessment
    • What is motivating your desire to partner or even to merge?  What do you wish to achieve by this alliance?  Be specific and quantify it.
    • Be realistic on what you can deliver (assets, capabilities, staff, vision)
    • Here’s a great question:  Are you currently in a crisis?  If so, you will be in a weakened position to negotiate an alliance or merger. 
  2. Assess the Prospective Partners
    • Nothing is more important than trust in a collaboration.  You must trust your potential partner.  And this is personal.  People must trust people. 
    • What is the other organization’s contribution to the alliance?  What do they really bring to the party that you cannot get elsewhere?   Look at this from several points of view vis a vis your organization’s strengths and needs:
    • Develop  a partnership purpose and fit statement.    Each organization should answer questions separately, then compare their respective answers together.



  1. First and foremost, stay the long haul.  Collaborations demand effort, time, patience and seeing the big picture.  Increased audiences or substantial cost savings are not always immediately evident but may, in fact, be the resulting synergy downstream of the collaboration. 
  2. Secondly, emphasize Common Goals.  It is no longer us and them; it must now only be us.  Each partner must translate their individual goals into common goals towards which all partners are striving.
  3. Third, do everything you can to build trust.  Spend more time on matching up organizational cultures than you do on the deal itself. 
  4. The building of trust and confidence in each other demands timely, accurate, and open exchange of information. 
  5. And always ensure accountability.  Participants must be able to demonstrate to what extent they have produced expected benefits. 
  6. View the partnership as an “alliance learning laboratory.”   There is no single way to create a successful collaboration.  Be open to mutual exploration and discovery.  Be willing to experiment.


My purpose today is to push you over the edge to begin to use collaboration as a strategic tool to accomplish the results your boards seek and your missions articulate. 

I won’t kid you that collaboration is a piece of cake.  Au contraire!  There will be problems.  And better to be aware of them on the front end so you can deal with them.

  1. It is not uncommon for at least one partner to worry about, and then complain about, losing their identity to a stronger partner. 
  2. Too often, there is serious complaint on the part of one or both parties saying they are spending inordinate amounts of time and energy to make the relationship work. 
  3. Then there is the wrong fit.  Too many times I have seen partnerships formed just to seek certain grants. 
  4. Now, here’s one that will sneak up on you.  I’m talking about a partnership than can divert an organization from its primary mission and, thus, jeopardize its very reason for being. 
  5. The biggest reason for failure is that the individual partners fear giving up their individual turf---status, donors, market share, staff, program ideas---and so the partnership NEVER comes together.  It remains two separate units working as two separate units, pulling in two different directions.  They forgot completely the fundamental principle that defines a partnership:  to SHARE.  It’s all about exchanging resources and sharing risks before you divide the rewards.

Don’t let the problems scare you.  Let them inform you. 

There is a simple device to remember everything we’ve discussed.   It’s called “The Seven C’s” as delineated in James Austin’s helpful book The Collaboration Challenge.

  1. CONNECTION:   Alliances are successful when key individuals connect personally and emotionally with the alliance’s purpose and with each other.
  2. CLARITY of purpose.  Jointly prepare a written collaboration purpose statement.
  3. Ensure CONGRUENCY of mission, strategy and values. 
  4. CREATION OF VALUE.  Collaboration is an ongoing search for VALUE that can be created by the partners jointly but not by one organization alone.
  5. COMMUNICATION between partners.  Alliances are high maintenance relationships that require focused attention.   Communications must be ongoing and often.
  6. CONTINUAL learning.  Collaborations must be dynamic.
  7. COMMITMENT to the partnership.  A strategic alliance is a deep relationship .

Lessons from Geese

I want to close with wonderful lessons we can learn from geese.  Listen carefully.  These have everything to do with collaboration.

People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership.  As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangement of gifts, talents or resources.

We need to make sure our honking is encouraging.  In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater.  The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your gift to me this morning of your time and attention, and for your gift of service to your respective communities.



MUSEUM ASSOCIATION OF ARIZONA --  Building a Vital Museum Community

Museum Association of Arizona

P.O. Box 63902, Phoenix, Arizona 85082


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