Habitat for Humanity – a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry that has helped to build over 500,000 decent, affordable houses and served 2.5 million people worldwide – advances its mission through the work of local affiliates. In the United States alone there are over 1,500 Habitat affiliates working to select and support homeowners, organize volunteers, and coordinate house building and repair in their communities. Many of these are “neighbors,” working in close proximity to other affiliates but operating independently. In 2010, eight affiliates in the Charlotte, North Carolina metropolitan area (“Metrolina”) decided to take a fresh look at that model and identify opportunities to work more closely together. They were particularly interested in exploring the potential for collaboration in five areas: ReStores (the fundraising divisions of Habitat; funds raised by each ReStore support the local affiliate), Family Services, development (fundraising), and homebuilding, and back office administration. With support from the Foundation for the Carolinas’ Community Catalyst Fund, the group engaged La Piana Consulting to help them assess these opportunities and facilitate conversations among the eight as they determined how to proceed.
Each affiliate came to the process with particular interests, perspectives, strengths, and challenges. Some were large, others very small. Several had collaborated on discrete initiatives in the past, but for the most part each was working independently and all were uncertain how to move toward a more collaborative future. As with all explorations of this type, building trust was a critical early step. Over the course of many months representatives from the eight affiliates met regularly, raising questions, discussing options, reviewing research, and working through issues large and small. They were particularly interested in learning what other Habitat affiliates around the country had done in terms of collaboration, and together we identified nine different examples ranging from collaborative ReStore advertising to shared back office services to full merger. While the group determined that merger was not an appropriate option for them, they also realized that there was a long list of things they could do – and wanted to do – and by the end of 2010 they were ready to take the first steps toward implementation.
Fast-forward one year, and – despite some initial challenges securing funding for shared projects – the collaboration is off and running! With a second round of support from the Community Catalyst Fund, seven of the eight affiliates – together with a ninth that expressed interest in joining the group – established Metrolina Partners, an independent organization working with and on behalf of the founding partners. Meg Robertson, formerly the Associate Director at Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte and now Executive Director of Metrolina Partners, described the anticipated benefits in a recent interview:
“Through a shared services approach, we expect cost savings. Centers of excellence will emerge and local affiliates can redirect operational time into mission-critical delivery and programmatic activities. Overall sharing of best practices and resources will lift all of the affiliates.”
One public reflection of the collaboration is the new Metrolina ReStores website. While proceeds from each individual ReStore still go to support the local Habitat affiliate, such joint marketing efforts are raising the profile of all ReStores operated by the Cabarrus, Catawba Valley, Charlotte, Gaston County, Iredell County, Lincoln County, Matthews, Our Towns, and York County affiliates, and in the process helping these affiliates advance their mission in ever more inspiring ways.
(This client profile was first published in the La Piana Consulting blog in March 2012.)