Building trust

by Jini Stolk

I’ve had many fascinating conversations since my recent post on self-interest as a largely unacknowledged factor in successful collaborative initiatives. This led me to think about another essential component of collaborations that work: trust. Because it was part of our name, identity, values and process at Creative Trust, trust was much discussed during the project’s development and continued to be an active theme in the office and around the board table.

I wanted to share my response to a thought-provoking question from our colleague Melody Mui who is now a Programme Officer at the Hong Kong Art Centre – where she is, I trust, extending our program’s values and processes to an arts community in the midst of exciting but challenging change.

Melody wanted to know what the reaction of the stakeholders was, when we were doing the feasibility study, to the idea of sharing and trusting one another; and whether I had any advice regarding inspiring trust and helping one another to collaborate for capacity programs of the future?

These are great questions, because I’ve come to understand that you can’t assume that mutual trust and cooperation will be part of every collaborative project. I think we had something very special at Creative Trust, and here are some of the factors – attitudes, approaches, expectations and values – that, I believe, fostered trust.

  • Many Creative Trust companies had been involved with Arts4Change and had already worked with George Thorn and Nello McDaniel from Arts Action Research individually and in group sessions, where we talked about the really hard topics: boards, finances, attendance, tensions within our companies, and stress. We had become comfortable with openly sharing our most pressing problems.
  • We had had the experience of developing a successful collective fundraising campaign, which raised almost $1.4 million for 23 companies ranging widely in size and type. We knew that collaboration could work.
  • Creative Trust was initiated and led from within the community. The founding steering committee (myself, Claire Hopkinson, Mallory Gilbert, Joan Bosworth and Jane Marsland) were arts managers who had a great deal of experience working on community advocacy, marketing and other initiatives.
  • We offered hope for real change. We asked people to work hard, but they knew they would be assisted, supported and rewarded when they were successful.
  • The program was structured around trust and sharing – with Creative Trust, with each other, and within each company. We encouraged and facilitated open and honest conversation.
  • Our values – based on our belief that the artistic vision is at the heart of each organization, and that each company has its own unique path to artistic vitality and organizational health – were defined early and remained the cornerstone of our work.
  • Creative Trust was both a funder and a part of the community (for which we were sometimes criticized.) We deeply understood the challenges of leading an arts organization, and worked hard to help people succeed.

There were no doubt other factors – including luck, timing, good will, and a uniquely open and supportive board of directors – that helped foster trust and success, but these stand out as possible guides and inspiration to other collaborators now and in future.



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