Co.Act Detroit opened its doors in June 2019 with the purpose of providing support, guidance, and room for the nonprofit sector of southeast Michigan to grow. The space occupies a busy corner on Woodward Avenue in Detroit and is a self-described hub for accelerating collaborative action in metro Detroit. “My main goal after graduation was finding a job that would allow me the chance to make a positive impact on the community,” says Alexis Farrell, program associate and AmeriCorps member at Co.act. “Working here was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Since opening its doors, the Co.act team has been busy hosting several types of events. Co.Lab Connect is a networking program held twice each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays for nonprofit partners and professionals to share ideas. Workshop Wednesdays is a weekly training session that covers data analysis and fundraising — Co.act has also created Data University, a workshop series developed in partnership with Data Driven Detroit. The learning model, which will be formally introduced in early September, will teach participants the basics of data and how to apply them in the real world. Slowing Down, a monthly seminar that encourages nonprofit professionals to prioritize their mental health, is another initiative of Co.act Detroit. These seminars are a priority for the team, as they believe self-care is necessary to combat the exhaustion that can come along with the selfless work that takes place at many nonprofits. “We value hard work and self-care,” says Kyla Carlsen, Co.act’s director of programs. “It’s a core pillar we aim to embed in our work culture and in the community itself.”
The Co.act team consists of program leaders, former nonprofit professionals, and recent graduates with passions for social service and public policy. Executive Director Allandra Bulger is a former nonprofit professional who saw that Detroit was in need of a collaborative space for the community. “Organizations are often pitted against each other instead of being encouraged to work together,” Bulger says of the nonprofit sector broadly. “This physical location creates the perfect environment for these collaborations to really grow and flourish.” In fact, one of the reasons that Co.act has expanded so quickly is because of its collaborative partnership with TechTown Detroit and the Michigan Nonprofit Association. TechTown Detroit serves as an “incubator and accelerator” for local tech startups and small businesses. Like Co.act, they provide resources and meeting space for companies in need. Many of these projects are made possible by a $5 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. The foundation, which honors the late University of Michigan Law School graduate and former owner of the Buffalo Bills football team, seeks to support the southeast Michigan community by focusing on four primary groups: families, children, caregivers, and community projects. After receiving the grant, the Co.act team was able to set their eyes on the Detroit space formerly occupied by a Sanders Candy store.
The nonprofit sector of southeast Michigan faces a host of challenges including troubles with access to funding, inequity, and difficulty in collaboration. Additionally, a major problem the nonprofit sector often experiences is in talent retention. Finding and retaining employees who are willing to put in the hours required to contribute to the success of such organizations — despite earning less than they might at major corporations — is no easy feat. Co.act, however, provides a convenient space that fosters collaboration to rectify this concern.
Co.act’s impact on the Detroit area is evident. According to the organization, their purpose is trifold. The team views it as a physical space where people can make connections and learn from one another. “We don’t have many resources like this in the region,” Bulger says. “It’s become such a unique opportunity to catalyze these actions.” Secondly, they view their work as uplifting. Bulger emphasizes the importance of highlighting organizations that are making a difference. Co.act is focused on meeting nonprofits where they are by making sure that they have a range of diverse programs and resources to meet the needs of a diverse community.
“Working at a place like Co.act aligns with my values and resonates with my personal beliefs,” Carlsen says about her position as director of programs. “Yes, we work in a beautiful office, but it’s more important to know that it was designed by and for this nonprofit ecosystem.” Despite their busy schedule, things don’t appear to be slowing down for Co.act Detroit. “The next few months are really about increasing awareness about the space and building a community while we begin our programs,” Bulger says. “We are very intentional about including the nonprofit voice as we progress. Everything we do will always be in response to local need.”