• Collaboration Type: Shared Services/Joint Programs
  • Region:Forbes
  • Social Issue: Varied
  • Size of Organizations: > $10 mil
  • BIPOC Leaders: Yes
  • Successful: Yes

Can a tenant-landlord relationship be transformed into something more? The Kingsley Association worked closely with its tenants to create a vibrant community center of organizations working to support each other’s needs.

Best Practices for Social Impact Organizations:

  1. Consider whether transactional relationships, like landlord-tenant, might be the groundwork for deeper collaboration.
  2. Build shared resource collaborations organically, focusing on how assets can work for everyone.

Outcomes:

  1. Greater visibility and number of visitors.
  2. Increase the quality of programs through cooperation.

Best Practices for Funders:

  1. Consider how organizations in a neighborhood might jointly tell their story for a more significant impact.

Not all sustained collaborations among organizations emerge from a crisis or a desire to accomplish a particular project. Instead, sustained collaboration can emerge by deepening some transactional relationships. Consider Kingsley Association’s partnerships with its tenants and how it turned those relationships into something more.

The Kingsley Association is a 130-year-old community center in the East End of Pittsburgh. For the last 20 years, they have been in a prime location, near both bus routes and downtown. They maintain a fitness center, basketball court, community meeting rooms, and an indoor pool. But within their space, they also have tenants leasing out space. These included the Environmental Charter School, Jeremiah’s Place, and the British Swim School.

  • The Environmental Charter School is a public, tuition-free K-12 school district. It uses an eco-literacy-based program and infuses real-world challenges into its curriculum.
  • Jeremiah’s Place is a 24/7 emergency childcare service for children aged 0-6. Children can stay for a few hours or sometimes days.
  • The British Swim School offers regular swim programs to children in the indoor pool space. They are a private franchise-based company.

Building Relationships

When Dexter Hairston, Executive Director of Kingsley, took the job, he saw an opportunity to transform these relationships.

“At that point, we had four full-time tenants here. I just figured if we were going to share a building, I needed to have some conversation just to gauge what the relationships had been like before me. Across the board, they all mentioned that it was really a tenant, landlord relationship, and nothing more. I shared with them that I didn’t think that was in any of our best interests. If we’re going to share space and we’re going to be in the same area doing some of the same work and want to serve the same people, it would make sense if we built relationships, and we could partner and collaborate when it made sense.”

Joint Marketing

After COVID, an opportunity for greater collaboration emerged. People wanted to come back, and there was an opportunity to make people aware of all that Kingsley Association and the location had to offer. Krista Williamson, Development and HR Manager at Kingsley, noted, “We have such an asset of a building in our location and the programs that we offer that we wanted to really market Kingsley, not just our programs. But what else is inside our four walls, which were those three primary collaborators we worked with through the project.”

The group applied to the Forbes Fund, a Sustained Collaboration Network initiative, to develop a joint marketing plan. Olivia Benson, Chief Operating Officer of the Forbes Fund, recalled, “They wanted to bring on a very specific marketing consultant, which very rarely do you hear about, at least for me, in nonprofits … I thought this was thoughtful, not only for Kingsley, but maybe other spaces that exist in other communities where they are housing tenants that are vital to the community. This a model that other communities with a similar setup could emulate.”

Jodi Segal of Big Change Consulting, who worked with Kingsley on the project, agrees. She’s had a few clients who rented out their space, but the idea of jointly marketing programs with tenants was new for her. “They wanted to be able to extend the goodwill and the physical space that they had to benefit the community as much as they could. And so, they were looking at how they could collaborate with the individual tenants, and one of the things they wanted to do was figure out how to do some shared marketing.”

Finding Organic Synergies

Although the marketing materials didn’t have the reach they wanted, the relationships among Kingsley tenants continued to evolve organically. All the tenants have signed long-term lease agreements. The organizations have found opportunities to partner on events in the building, increasing exposure. The Environmental Charter School uses Kingsley basketball courts as their team’s “home” court. Recently, they have placed their juniors and seniors in internships at Kingsley.

Through organic partnerships, the organizations have found ways to support each other. Hairston explains, “We consider them part of our extended family, and we treat them that way by supporting all their different ventures. They see that, hear that, and feel that.”

Kingsley Association has benefited the community through their partnership by proactively informing people of the resources. Benson explains,

“If you look at where Larimer is in the city of Pittsburgh, it’s the flattest land in the city. The land is primed for development. I think they did something proactive by continuing to tell the storytelling and highlighting exactly how much of a community resource and access hub this is. I don’t see it stopping gentrification. But it gives folks a reason to change the lens they’re looking at Larimer through because of the value that’s already there — not necessarily needing to tear down and build, but to invest in what’s already working.”

In short, Kingsley Association has become the host of a community center and a community asset rather than just a landlord. By organically finding opportunities to strengthen each other’s programs, they have more effective community outreach. And they have bolstered the reputation of both the community hub and their community.