On Wednesday we experimented with a new format for NCN Boot Camp. In response to feedback about the high cost of travel to an in-person training, we decided to offer our introductory-level training in an online format. We had a great turn-out, even better than our in-person Boot Camp trainings.
The curriculum covered most aspects of starting a nonprofit shared space, but it’s always interesting to see the kinds of questions and conversations that emerge during these trainings. I thought I would share some of them with you, along with our shortened responses.
- My burning question is: where do we start?! Boot Camp covered mission/vision statements, theory of change, the feasibility planning process, site selection, ownership considerations, paying for the project, day-to-day challenges, space usage, staffing, capital campaigns, partner selection, pricing, operating expenses, shared services, network mapping, cultivating collaboration and governance. Hopefully we covered this question!
- Is vision creation more difficult for the Multi Sector Centers… because it’s not zeroed in on a particular cause? Yes, it can be harder to refine a vision statement when you don’t start with a focused theme or targeted population that you are serving. We recommend focusing vision statements on the value added by being in shared space, not just the real estate. So perhaps focus on how you will catalyze collaboration among the diverse tenants you recruit, on the services you may offer or how the community will be better off because of the mix of tenants you will bring together.
- What response rate do you typically see on surveys in the feasibility plan process? If you’re reaching out to “cold” leads, we see a 15-20% response rate. If you have a “warmer” contact list of groups you have higher confidence in their interest, we can get up to a 100% response rate.
- How do you reach out to potential participants you have never heard of? How do you find them? If you don’t have good access to the universe of nonprofits you want to reach, we suggest working with intermediaries such as a nonprofit association, resource and referral agencies and organizations who provide training to nonprofits to get started.
- Should you have a partner criteria in place before telling the public? This is a careful balance. Sometimes you need to keep your partner criteria open-ended to attract more organizations. We strongly advocate for opening a center as full as possible. However, we’ve also seen centers struggle when they let everyone in at first and then have trouble with tenant partners who weren’t a good fit in terms of culture, goals or engagement. Our best advice is to be clear in your messaging to the public. If you haven’t finalized your partner criteria yet, you can say that and still build interest. It might help to keep initial rental terms short, so you have the option to refine your mix of folks after opening.
- How do I find an attorney who supports and understands shared space? This can be difficult. It’s hard to find a reasonably priced attorney who understands not just real estate, but shared space. What we’ve seen work is to find the most qualified real estate attorney you can but use the Online Resource Center to fill in any gaps in their understanding of the shared space model. We have many sample documents that they can use, so you don’t have to pay for getting them up to speed on leases vs licenses, for instance. A good attorney will know what they don’t know and be curious to learn more in a cost-effective way.
- What are your thoughts about the terminology around tenants/members/residents/neighbors/partners of the center? In your experience and research, do most shared spaces use the label “tenant”? How does this impact the collaborative culture of the space? We admit that at NCN we default to the term “tenant” because those within our network use so many different terms. “Tenant” is a common denominator that everyone understands, but this doesn’t mean it is the best term. Some centers are set up with a “member” option and so “tenants” can mean something different from “members” who may have different benefits in the space. Some centers have decided to use the term “partners” or “neighbors” or “residents”. We applaud these efforts as they are a better foundation for building collaboration. When one refers to a person or group as a “tenant”, the power dynamic with the landlord is emphasized which isn’t optimal for a peer-to-peer collaborative culture.
Thanks for the great questions! Send us your comments or any other thoughts or questions these raised for you.