The Collaborative Circle of Life

By:Allison Coulter-Redman Issue: Collaborative Leadership Section: Community

Years ago I was standing with a group of professional woman at the Governor’s Women’s Conference

discussing various topics from the event. As I was talking, a gentle hand tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and I saw the face of a smiling woman who said, “Hi, I am Rebecca Saltman, president of A Foot-in-the Door Productions. I saw you from across the room; I have to meet you and I do not know why.” I smiled back and introduced myself to this beaming woman of energy. It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship and my introduction into her world of “collaboration.”

Saltman explained she connected nonprofit organizations with socially responsible corporate and public sector leaders. She went on to say, “Allison, it is all about collaboration.” As a business owner myself, I understood the importance of collaboration in business. In fact, our company’s model was and is heavily designed around collaborative strategies with partners and customers. What I had not thought of however, was Saltman’s collaborative world and how for-profit businesses could work with nonprofit organizations to build market share and solidify community ties. Saltman was passionate that these two business structures working together could create a “circle of life” that ultimately leads to the betterment of humanity and business. She said, “This concept works! It is nothing new and it would be fun to prove it with a successful model.”

The “circle of life” started with Saltman introducing me to Lloyd Lewis, who at the time was chief financial officer of a for-profit business. We started working with a nonprofit organization that wanted to launch an energy institute—but the timing was not right. Although the institute did not succeed, the three of us continued to communicate. Shortly thereafter, I received a call from Lewis, who had just accepted the position as president of Arc Thrift Retail Stores (Arc Thrift), a nonprofit committed to improving the lives of and bringing a sense of fulfillment to persons, children and adults, with developmental and intellectual disabilities. He asked if I could bring my expertise to the organization by reducing costs in the information technology (IT) side of the business.

The answer was, “Yes!” He asked our company, Redman Consulting Services, Inc., to review all IT and telecommunications activities with a focus on reducing costs. Redman responded with significant cost savings for the organization. Redman also worked to ensure the savings covered its cost of services. Redman’s journey continued with Arc Thrift the following year by serving as the project manager for the company’s move from its 100,000 square foot facility to a 50,000 square foot warehouse. Upon completion of the move, Lloyd asked Redman to join Arc Thrift’s Board of Directors as its technology representative and a member of its development committee. We happily obliged.

Redman continues to provide technology services to Arc Thrift and expanded its community outreach to for-profit entities, like Trendz Boutique, Inc. (Trendz), as well. Trendz offers unique and fashionable women’s clothing with personal shopping services to their customers, but Redman thought there were more collaborative opportunities. So Redman connected Trendz co-owners, Nancy Marquez and Jennifer Tiell, to Kathy McAdoo, the Director of Business Development for Arc Thrift, and the ladies hit it off. After just a few meetings, Trendz committed to donating 10 percent of its trunk show net revenues to Arc Thrift to support its mission. In return, Arc Thrift agreed to support Trendz by advertising their trunk shows through their media and to participate in Trendz fashion shows. The collaborative partnership has resulted in a two-way business collaboration where both organizations regularly work together at trade shows and other events. Just as Redman shared its passion for Arc Thrift with Trendz, Trendz now shares the same passion of Arc Thrift with its customers.

The “circle of life” continued when Trendz introduced Arc Thrift to a “trunk show” host, The Crazy Merchant, Inc., (The Crazy Merchant) - a retail store that provides its customers with a custom beading studio, unique gifts and finished jewelry. Upon learning of Arc Thrift’s mission from Trendz, The Crazy Merchant added Arc Thrift to its giving list. Crazy Merchant customers choose an organization on the list with each transaction, such as Arc Thrift, to receive a donation from the store that is equal to 10 percent of their total purchase.

This three-way collaborative now supports for-profit retailers with an aligned community strategy where each has a role to play. At each trunk show event, Arc Thrift provides an onsite truck for Trendz, and The Crazy Merchant customers donate unwanted and or used personal items so that Arc Thrift can sell them in their retail stores. At the same time, customers learn that a purchase from Trendz and/or The Crazy Merchant is a donation to support Arc Thrift’s community initiatives.

Today, Redman continues to serve on Arc Thrift’s Board of Directors and as Trendz’s and Arc Thrift’s technology consultant. Saltman continues to provide consulting support to Redman and Arc Thrift for various events and projects. Trendz donates 10 percent of its net revenues to Arc Thrift, and the Crazy Merchant donates 10 percent of each retail transaction that is directed by a customer to Arc Thrift. It’s a profitable and meaningful win-win-win-win!

And needless to say, the “circle of life” is successfully working. The for-profit businesses are working together with Arc Thrift to better the community by advocating for people with developmental disabilities and by exposing their customers and business partners to the Arc Thrift mission. But it is bigger than that. Each organization has experienced some sort of financial reward as well. Arc Thrift’s work with Redman has resulted in business process efficiencies that are driving down costs. Redman has gained long term clients with reoccurring revenues. Trendz has expanded its customer base resulting in increased sales. And The Crazy Merchant has gained new customer traffic.

I know the Saltman “circle of life” strategy works and we have all gained something—a collaborative business community. You should try it.

Allison Coulter-Redman is the CEO of Redman Consulting Services, Inc. based in Littleton, Colorado. To learn more about Redman visit To learn more about A Foot in the Door Productions visit To learn more about Arc Thrift Retail Stores visit To learn more about Trendz Boutique, Inc. visit learn more about The Crazy Merchant, Inc. visit