Creative Partners is a collaborative effort to provide professional fundraising for Chicago nonprofit arts organizations. Launched in January 2013, Creative Partners serves nationally recognized performing arts organizations, allowing each company to prioritize the artists whose projects drive their growth and generate the resources needed to make more and better work.
Grounded in three years of research and planning, Creative Partners was initiated in 2010 by Artistic Director of Lucky Plush Julia Rhoads. Rhoads struggled with a common challenge in the nonprofit sector: her company needed staff to manage its growth, but could only offer small hourly wages to catchall administrative assistants. Employees saw the position as a stepping-stone, often working for less than a year before moving on to established institutions offering competitive pay. Even when the company did attract an exceptional candidate to maintain daily operations—long-term planning, big-picture financial management, and the enforcement of the best practices in the field were outside of her scope of responsibilities, not to mention beyond her experience in the workplace.
Rhoads conceived of a high-level administrative share that had the potential to break the cycle, providing consistent, part-time relationships with expert staff for Lucky Plush and similar organizations. With the right leadership in place, the collaboration would spark growth for all participants, generating enough new income that the staff could pay for itself in time. As this potential for sustainability took center stage in conversations with prospective donors and collaborators, the Creative Partners concept transitioned from a shared executive department to a fundraising initiative. For its first set of partners 2013-17, Rhoads selected collaborating organizations not working in dance—Eighth Blackbird, a GRAMMY award winning contemporary music ensemble, and Blair Thomas & Company, which produces original works and the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival—ensuring a richer network of supporters and preventing the oversaturation of fundraising activities in any one performing arts market.