Has your community been touched by the coworking revolution? These hip, new, open-concept workspaces are providing the start-up tech developer, freelance graphic designer, and the independent accountant an alternative to working from the corner coffee shop. Their flexible memberships give individuals and small businesses access to a full-service office space, with printers and copiers, Wi-Fi, meeting rooms, and a community of like-minded people.
Coworking is old news to the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits in communities across North America share office space to reduce their costs, improve the quality of service, and increase their impact.
Cost-effectiveness is a driving factor in the creation of many nonprofit shared spaces. In a nonprofit center, tenants share underutilized common areas like kitchens, meeting rooms, and workrooms, reducing the amount that each organization must pay for the resource. Many nonprofits in shared space also collaborate on back-office services like IT or administrative support, further reducing costs.
According to data recently collected by The Nonprofit Centers Network, the average tenant saves close to $12,000 annually by being in shared space. Additionally, shared nonprofit spaces provide more stable and predictable operating expenses because their landlords are not driven to maximize their revenue by taking advantage of fluctuations in the market. The Thoreau Center for Sustainability in San Francisco has saved its tenants over $16 million since it opened in 1996 by protecting them from rapid market fluctuations.
Shared space is about more than cost savings. One of the biggest draws to commercial coworking space is being a part of a community – breaking through organizational silos. For nonprofits, sharing space means having a greater impact in people’s lives. For example, Haven for Hope, a one-stop center for the homeless in San Antonio, Texas, has housed over 2,000 men, women, and children since it opened in 2010 by connecting them with the resources available from its 93 partners, 35 of which are on the same campus. According to the 2015 State of the Shared Space Sector Survey conducted by The Nonprofit Centers Network, 82% of Executive Directors of organizations housed in nonprofit centers say that they are now better able to meet their organization’s goals. Furthermore, groups in shared space report that their services have improved in quality, scale, and scope.
A vibrant workplace community is also important to nonprofits and their staff. Although every nonprofit center has its own culture and personality, many tenants can attest to the importance of having a greater group of colleagues that they can call on for advice. Many centers also have informal events like happy hours, brown bag lunches, and annual celebrations, to help tenants get acquainted with one another. Executive Directors see an uptick in staff morale after moving into shared space, and many report that it is easier to recruit and retain quality employees.
While the benefits of shared space are significant, it is not the right solution for everyone. Nonprofit centers and shared spaces, like their for-profit coworking counterparts, are best for small organizations. The average tenant in shared space has only three employees. Additionally, many shared spaces are looking for groups that are open and willing to collaborate and create the greatest impact for everyone within the building’s walls. It is also important to understand who the other organizations in the building will be, and if the space will meet your organization’s business needs; for example, are the conference rooms adequate or will you need to periodically rent space off-site?
If you think shared space might be worth exploring for your organization, go to The Nonprofit Centers Network’s website (www.nonprofitcenters.org) to find a nonprofit center in your community. The Nonprofit Centers Network also has resources to help you start a new shared space, building on others’ experiences from across North America.
Katie Edwards is Associate Director of The Nonprofit Centers Network, a peer-learning community of shared spaces across the US and Canada that facilitates the sharing of best practices in creating and operating nonprofit centers. In addition to their vibrant membership program, NCN offers training, webinars, and consulting to support the development of new shared spaces. NCN offers continuous virtual shared space training, in addition to Shared Space Boot Camp in Denver, Colorado, in October 2019. www.nonprofitcenters.org
This article is reprinted from Issue #5 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!
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