Allandra Bulger, Executive Director, Co.act Detroit

This Oakland University graduate has made a career of supporting nonprofits – and, in her newest role, she’s creating an environment where the city’s organizations support each other.

Allandra Bulger
Photo by J. Lindsey Photography

Officially launched in June, Co.act Detroit is inviting southeast Michigan’s nonprofits out of their separate corners and providing a space where they can mingle and access the resources that will help advance their missions.

Funded by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and spearheaded by TechTown Detroit and the Michigan Nonprofit Association, Co.act Detroit is a resource hub offering “programming that nonprofits can plug into,” executive director Allandra Bulger says. “Really, it’s about accelerating collaboration among nonprofits and other cross-sector partners.”

During their Co.Lab Connect sessions, for example, nonprofit leaders get one-on-one time with experts from various sectors like financial management, human resources, legal and the like. Through this and other workshops and conversations, Co.act is “creating a more connected and resilient nonprofit community,” Bulger says.

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“We recognize that organizations across Detroit and across our region are doing amazing work, but it often is very siloed. It’s also often a lot of competition for resources, and so we really see collaboration as a solution to that.”

Bulger has spent her entire 17-year career in the nonprofit sector, working as a consultant, in project design and management, and in other capacities. She earned her master’s in public administration from Oakland University, specializing in nonprofit organization and management; she currently teaches nonprofit management at the school.

“I’ve always been really interested in the work that nonprofits do to support our community and make our community better,” Bulger says. “This opportunity is kind of a culmination of those experiences and that interest, and being able to provide this resource and grow this resource with the nonprofit community, for me, is just amazing.”

Before Co.act launched, Bulger and the team spent time engaging with nonprofit leaders to co-create the most resourceful space and programming possible. She says they learned that the needs of the community’s nonprofits were vast – “which was no surprise” – but, especially, leaders were looking for a safe space in which they could get together, and they had a strong “desire to disrupt business as usual.” Bulger says, “What folks are really looking for is lasting and transformational change.”

The 6,500-square-foot facility at Woodward and East Grand Boulevard was purposefully designed and is a direct reflection of those engagement sessions, boasting small- to medium-sized conference rooms, coworking and flex spaces, flat-screens, conference call equipment and whiteboards. And Co.act’s main gathering space can accommodate up to 80 people. “A really cool component that we have is our communal table.”

Every second and fourth Friday, they host a drop-in work day for people in the nonprofit sector, so it’s not unusual to find people working at that table or throughout the space. It’s all conducive to creating what Bulger calls “natural collisions.” She says, “What we have happen in our space a lot is where someone has come in for an event or for a coworking experience, and then they meet someone who can help with their work or vice versa.”

Co.act doesn’t require memberships. “We are really designed to be accessible to nonprofits, big and small,” Bulger says. She recommends signing up for their newsletter and keeping an eye on their social media pages to stay up on what’s happening and learn how you can get involved.

And not all resources are specifically geared toward nonprofits – like the monthly Candid Conversations – “parlor-style conversations, particularly around hot-button subjects in Detroit” – hosted by Urban Consulate. All are welcome to pop in.

In 2020, Co.act will start to utilize the Activate Fund, a $1.5 million grant from RCWJF to support the development, growth and strengthening of nonprofits in various ways – most notably, Bulger says, by facilitating collaboration and leadership development, with an emphasis on leaders of color.

In their nascent stage, Co.act is hoping to plant the seeds that’ll birth a new culture and cultivate from there. “For us,” Bulger says, “it becomes about lifting up what works well, both from a local and a national perspective, but also creating an environment for folks to work together and learn together.”

For more information on how Co.act Detroit strengthens nonprofit collaboration or to join an upcoming event, visit coactdetroit.org.

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