Those two little words strike fear into leaders’ hearts. I hear “It’s too expensive!” or “We don’t have time!” or “No one ever fills out surveys anyway!” Earlier this year, we set out to help shared space managers tackle this question with the support of Laura Sundstrom and Elena Harmon of Vantage Evaluation. Through a combination of structured learning webinars, peer learning and hands on homework, we worked with approximately ten different shared spaces to see what methods we could test. While we are still crunching the quantitative and qualitative data, here are my preliminary take aways.
Have a clear goal for your collaborative work. What are you trying to accomplish through shared space? Break it down as simply as possible and unpack common jargon-filled phrases. Trying to show the impact of collaboration? Make sure you know what that looks like in your community?
The Discovery Center & Pier are a shared campus to five water-based nonprofit organizations in northwest Michigan:
• Great Lakes Children’s Museum
• Maritime Heritage Alliance
• Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay
• Inland Seas Education Association
• Traverse Area Community Sailing
The Traverse Tall Ship Company operates from the campus as an affiliate business partner.
The organizations, while co-located on the 15-acre campus, largely operate from their own buildings. Obviously, having access to a deepwater port and more than 11,000 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline make this facility different and uniquely suited for organizations with boats and/or a connection to water. (Only Great Lakes Children’s Museum does not operate a boat.)
The owner is a division of the local Rotary Club. It is mainly managed by the member organizations through a separate nonprofit. A plan is being developed for a new nonprofit center that would house most of the partners’ operations under one roof.
What do a café Manager, Member and Program Coordinator, nonprofit Executive Director and Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst all have in common?
Well, last week the café Manager, John, and I organized an open mic during our building’s monthly tenant Happy Hour. Our responses were slim, but two brave, busy souls, Craig (the CAIA) and Michael (the ED) reached out to share that they played bass and guitar, respectively. John, a New Orleans native, plays guitar and sings and I play violin (trained) and sing (not trained). We forged ahead with no time to rehearse, but just some scattered emails throwing out ideas for tunes, who could sing or play what, and a few charts in case any of us miraculously had time to practice on our own.
Michael had just got back from traveling but thanks to an unclaimed guitar left it in a Car2Go vehicle, whose office is in our building, he had something to play. It took some time to get a working bass amp for Craig, but we started to hit a groove and kept at it for an hour and half. Two others jumped in and we crossed a generation of artists, from Patty Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison to Bo Diddley. People showed up, and they even cheered! I’m not saying we’re the new hottest band this side of the Mississippi, but we had fun and sounded good!
Outside of us all knowing John, because well, he makes coffee (‘nuff said), we now all have a reason to say, “how you doin’?” to each other in the building. We found common ground between folks I otherwise may not have met. Is this going to lead life changing, mission-oriented collaboration? Doubtful. But together we contributed to a culture of creativity and fellowship in the space, through a medium completely unconnected to our building’s theme of sustainability.
A leader in our community recently challenged a group of us to get out and talk to people who don’t look like you, who may fall into a different “category” of life, because we are getting trapped in our own bubbles. We are missing out on the diversity of life, which stifles our own experience in this world. I’ve always felt music is one path towards connecting people, and this was just another instance that reaffirmed that for me.
People have been asking when the next jam is and we’re planning for October. We plan on opening it up outside the building walls and even asking the guy who regularly plays jazz flute on the street corner outside our building. One of John’s friends who is without a home plans to join us when he gets his guitar fixed.
It might not be music for you. But what opportunities do you have to find common ground that may or may not fall outside your line of work? It doesn’t always have to be epic. In the world these days, sometimes we just need space to feel good, together. I’m grateful shared space cultivates these opportunities, and it’s just another reason I like going to work each day. And that can carry us a long way to our respective missions.
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…
Langs began as a community development project close to 40 years ago. Today, the organization provides a range of social, recreational and health services for all ages. The Community Hub@ 1145 was made possible with federal and municipal funding; a successful capital fundraising campaign and bank financing. The 58,000 square foot facility was designed by Laird Robertson and built by Melloul-Blamey Construction in 2011. The organization is co-located with the William E. Pautler Seniors Centre which operates a frail elderly day program and health promotion programs for seniors. Langs is co-located with 20 community partners and is expanding the facility to include space for additional partners. Some current onsite partners include:
Like so many Americans, my heart has been with those in Texas after Hurricane Harvey made landfall over a week ago. Our coasts have seen hurricanes, but not like that. From my desk in the mountains, I’ve made donations and spread the word. A few of our NCN members closer to Houston have organized teams to go help with local efforts. I can’t imagine the damage that our shared space colleagues down there have sustained.
Whether it’s a hurricane in Texas, fires in Alberta, tornados in the Midwest or floods on the east coast, disasters can strike at any time. For those of us who have done all we can, events like Harvey serve as a call to action – are we ready for when disaster strikes? Are our buildings and communities ready?
Here are a few tips to make sure you’re as prepared as you can be:
Sometimes it can be hard to explain everything that takes place within a shared nonprofit space – sometimes you just have to see it! Check out these videos that our members have created to show off their amazing spaces.
When you provide shared space or back office services for nonprofits it can be a challenge to explain what exactly it is that you do. This was the focus of NCN’s virtual Community of Practice last week. Honing our message is a continual work in progress.
For many years, we’ve included Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” TED Talk in our Nonprofit Centers Boot Camp Curriculum. While providing affordable space for nonprofits is a noble endeavor, most of us are in this field for a greater purpose. Sinek argues that if you can articulate the “Why” behind the “What” that you do, you will be more success and convincing people to support your cause.
Another tool that I have found to be incredibly useful is Mission Minded’s Minute Messaging Model, which was recently featured on their blog. Mission Minded asks people to develop a series of timed stories about their mission:
I was recently traveling for my Summer vacation. When I would come across new people and tell them about my work at The Nonprofit Centers Network, I got the typical mix of responses that I’ve come to expect. They range from, “Wow! Sharing space and resources makes so much sense for the nonprofit sector,” to the confused “That’s nice, but what do you really do?” Then there was a conversation with a woman that caught me by surprise. From the way she reacted, I knew immediately that she was one of those who “got it” right away. Towards the end of our conversation, she asked me, “What can I do to support this idea? I don’t run a nonprofit organization, and I’m not a philanthropist.” Here are some of the tips I shared (and some I wish I had thought of at the time!):
I’ve been reflecting on the biggest lessons I’ve learned about mission-driven shared spaces. Here’s what I would tell someone new to the field.
#1 – Find the Bullseye – Nonprofit centers that have a very clear goal that resonates with the community tend to be more successful. A clear goal allows the center to brand itself and communicates the value of locating there. They can build a quicker buzz than a center with a more generic focus. Tenants understand the benefits of co-locating and clients and community members know where to access resources. NCN’s survey data has shown that centers tend to be more financially sustainable when they are organized around a specific theme or goal.
#2 – Get a Backbone – Start-up nonprofit centers are more successful when there is a project manager to shepherd the project through development. Many groups try to build their centers by committee, which can seem more financially responsible, but in my experience, hiring someone to champion the project, schedule meetings, follow up on to-do lists and monitor the budget is the better option.