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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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YMCA-YWCA collaboration paying off

Joint effort cuts costs, boosts services

A joint effort by the YWCA and YMCA to build two big community centers in Spokane is emerging as a model of collaboration for nonprofits, especially in lean times when groups compete for fewer donor dollars.

For more than a century the two organizations pursued distinct missions and operated separate facilities. Now they’ll share buildings in central and north Spokane and cooperate on services for kids and families.

It’s the first joint capital campaign resulting in co-location of a YMCA and YWCA in the nation.

“I think that’s probably the most exciting thing in my career, what we’re doing right now,” said Rig Riggins, president and CEO of the YMCA of the Inland Northwest.

“This is the first time that a YMCA and a YWCA have deliberately gone together and formed a plan and created a vision for the benefit of the community by constructing these massive facilities,” Riggins said.

Though their missions are different, both organizations aim to improve lives, and the alliance will reinforce those efforts, he said. “We can do so much more by working together than we could do individually,” he said.

The YMCA and YWCA boards in early 2006 decided to pursue the projects together. So far the “Your Y” campaign has raised $32 million toward a $40.5 million goal. Selling their old buildings is expected to raise $9.3 million of the total.

Now in the community phase of the campaign, they hope to raise $1 million from families and individuals, in donations of $5,000 or less.

The organizations say joint fundraising and sharing facilities erase duplication of efforts. By going together, the groups figure they saved about $2 million in construction-related costs, such as sharing meeting space, the child care center and indoor play areas.

Also, they anticipate saving thousands of dollars a year in operating costs, such as for heating and cooling, and maintenance and custodial work.

Moreover, the YMCA and YWCA estimate they’ll expand the services they provide by 40 percent, with little increase in overhead. The organizations, jointly serving 50,000 people now, anticipate they’ll serve 70,000 once both centers are open.

“It leads a way for others to think about how nonprofits can collaborate effectively to make a bigger impact,” said Monica Walters, the former executive director of the YWCA.

Other nonprofits can learn from the partnership, Riggins said. He and Walters spoke about it last September at the annual conference of Philanthropy Northwest, a group whose mission is to build philanthropic communities in Idaho and five other Western states.

“The feedback we get continually is we’re doing it right and it’s going to be a model,” Riggins said. Larry Soehren, the YMCA board chairman, said the potential for collaboration with the YWCA is only beginning with the opening of the Central Y in May and the North Y in July.

“I think that’s a story that keeps telling itself over and over as we reinvent this thing and we work closer and closer together to understand the separate missions and how we can do it together,” Soehren said.

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