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Summer Hess

Type the word “innovation” into Google, and you’ll get nearly 7 million search results; it seems that all companies and entrepreneurs are striving to make it a part of their brands. And while new technologies are important, the unchecked stampede for innovation may be draining energy from the full application of existing innovation strategies—some of which come with 3.8 billion years of intelligence and design practice. Biomimicry distills life-sustaining patterns and strategies into a lens that can be applied to a diverse array of design challenges. Importantly, its primary requirement/constraint is that solutions be conducive to life. That means it cannot hide or mask externalities that actually drive up the true cost for pocket books, people, and the planet. Instead, it provides a framework for systems-level thinking that emphasizes interdependence and the emulation organizing principles that support the integrity whole system.

Asheley Lovell, Ph. D.

Nonprofits come in many shapes and sizes, but one thing they share in common is a desire to scale up their impact on the world. Collaboration has long been touted as the best way for nonprofits to scale up, but the actual practice of collaboration is often messy, making it hard to measure the impacts of these efforts. At The Alliance Center in Denver, CO (home to the headquarters for The Nonprofit Centers Network), over 50 nonprofit and for-profit organizations work under one roof. We are a mission-driven nonprofit with an event and collaborative working space which is dedicated to bringing people together to create a sustainable and inclusive future. As the operator of a collaborative working space, we strive to create a work environment that is inspiring, inviting, and that promotes constructive interactions between tenants. The Alliance Center recently underwent a brand realignment process to reconnect with our mission. As part of this process we changed the name of the organization from the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado to The Alliance Center. For many years, the building that houses the collaborative working spaces was named The Alliance Center while the nonprofit organization that managed the building and created programming was called the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado. This caused considerable confusion. While we are excited to have one name for all aspects of our work, changing our name to The Alliance Center is about a lot more than simplifying our moniker.

Kathy Lanni and Allison Schultz

Nipper the DogWould the nonprofit community in upstate New York’s Capital Region be willing to try something new? This is the question we have been considering for some time. As partners on a number of initiatives targeting social and economic justice in our community, SEFCU and Siena College’s Center for Academic Community Engagement (ACE) have supported organizations that address the needs of poor and marginalized populations.

As we assessed the impact of this work, we began to question whether our current model might actually be a barrier to our goals—that is by providing safety net and capacity building support (financial and otherwise) are we thwarting the community-based collaborative efforts necessary to address the multiple needs in our region? It seems so—our traditional model encourages organizations to compete for funding instead of addressing community-wide problems of service duplication and gaps. We are not encouraging nonprofit professionals to consider together the overarching needs and assets of the community when formulating initiatives. This design cultivates an antagonistic environment where organizations have become increasingly distrustful of each other.

We began to explore whether a shared services/shared space model could lay the groundwork for the multi-organizational interventions crucial for community impact. The subsequent 2016 NCN Feasibility Study of Shared Services/Shared Space explored whether or not our community was open to collaborative initiatives bolstered through shared resources.

While the data showed nonprofit organizations were willing to collaborate on certain projects or initiatives. Many respondents suggested that this collaboration should begin “some time in the future”—possibly suggesting a time when said respondent no longer works at the organization. Additional data confirmed that there was distrust among community stakeholders, organizational parochialism, regional resistance to change, and critical funding concerns (from the findings of the 2016 NCN Shared Services Feasibility Study, Planning Committee Meeting, August 2016)

After analyzing these data, NCN recommended implementing a low stakes communications platform which could build trust and social capital among nonprofit professionals and community members, increase awareness of shared interests and the exchange of information, break down the barriers that have thwarted our community goals, and lay the groundwork for future collaborative efforts.

We have already seen progress in this effort. A team of NEXT Fellows has evaluated various online community platforms and selected one. They plan to implement a beta test in early 2018 with a group of early adopters and community ambassadors. The portal should be fully operational by the end of the Spring 2018 semester. SEFCU and ACE have been promoting this initiative in the community and our nonprofit partners are excited to participate. A NEXT team will continue to administer the platform for the upcoming year as we assess the model, develop and implement effective practices and policies, and market the portal to the nonprofit Capital Region Community.

*Statues of Nipper the RCA dog were placed on buildings all over northeast during the 1950s. The last remaining Nipper statue resides in Albany, NY. It is an iconic landmark in the NY Capital Region. Nipper the RCA Dog, License, Bill Morrow, No changes made


Organization: SEFCU




Chelsea Donohoe

Does shared space really matter? The data doesn’t lie!  The following facts draw from the 2015 State of the Shared Space Sector Survey. If you want more, you can download the report. So that we’re all on the same page, here is how NCN describes a “typical” nonprofit center: 35,000 sq ft facility, 250 people served weekly and $488,000 in revenue. These centers also have around 12 tenant organizations and 70 total employees. With that in mind, an overwhelming majority of organizations surveyed say they have improved services, seen significant cost savings, and can better achieve goals now that they are part of a shared space. Here are the biggest ways we found nonprofits are benefitting from this kind of collaboration.

Chelsea Donohoe

We’re super pumped at NCN about the upcoming Sharing Innovation event. It’s honestly like no event we’ve ever done before. You’ll get to hear about groundbreaking collaboration happening all over the country. No matter the size or scope of your organization, our speakers will have actionable advice and creative strategies you can tailor to meet your goals and needs. You might just get so excited you come up with your own ingenious idea…

Alison Hanold

In 2009, a group of 19 different program leaders from literacy programs around Chicago got together informally over coffee to talk about their work. During that conversation, one of the program leaders said, "I am running a creative writing program at Schiller Elementary, and I can't get the principal to return my phone calls. Does anyone have a good email address for him?" Another leader said, "I am also running a creative writing program at Schiller Elementary." And yet another leader said, "me too." In the end it was discovered that all of the organizations represented that day were running programs at Schiller Elementary School, which had 200 students, and none of them had any idea that the others were there. They were passing each other in the hallway on a regular basis.

Kim McNamer

I was recently working with NCN on a feasibility study and was asked to look into 1st floor retail options in a shared space environment. While I didn’t have experience with this when working at Deschutes Children’s Foundation, I have always thought the idea of having some retail in a shared space center could be beneficial particularly in regards to an additional revenue stream.

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