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A recent question on Ask-NCN reminded me of a workshop I attended during our 2015 Building Opportunities Conference in Vancouver, BC on Identifying and Managing Risk in Social Purpose Real Estate. The presenter that resonated most with me was Mandy Hansen of Insight Specialty Consulting, who focused on ways that you can understand risk, especially risk from partnership. She suggested that all social purpose real estate projects (including nonprofit centers) conduct a “Risk Workshop,” a constructive way to assess potential issues. Here are the 4 steps to run your own Risk Workshop...

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Facilitating Energize: High Impact Shared Spaces in Philadelphia was the highlight of the month of April from me. It is rare that we have so many practitioners from all across the country in one room – the energy is amazing! As we planned the curriculum, we wanted to make sure that there was plenty of time for peer learning.

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Did you know that 98% of the nonprofit center have a goal of increasing collaboration among their resident partners? The opportunities presented by working together with your neighbors in shared space are incalculable, but often managers don’t feel like their community is living up to their expectations. To help get groups moving in the right direction, we’ve developed a half-day session called a “Collaboration Kick-Off” to help clarify a group’s goals around collaboration and spark ideas of potential connections.

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Many nonprofit centers I’ve visited do a lot to reduce their carbon footprint, from putting in super-efficient HVAC systems and bio-walls to replacing your trash-can with a recycling bin. Since approximately 20% of office waste is organic matter, the next step for many groups is to start an office composting program. Both centers I’ve worked out of, the Thoreau Center for Sustainability in San Francisco and The Alliance Center in Denver, have run successful composting programs for years. Here are some tips your space.

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Are we doing what we set out to do? Is this model worth it? Developing evaluation models for shared spaces is currently a hot topic in our community. One of the factors we see that makes this process a challenge is that many centers haven’t taken the time to clarify their mission. When your lease is expiring and you’re in the process of drawing up plans for a new shared space, setting forth a mission for your space can seem like a luxury. Other centers spend too much time wordsmithing their mission statement into something lofty, inspirational, and all too often vague.

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More and more workplaces are inviting people to bring their furry friends to work with them, and shared spaces are no different. We have several members in the Network where every day is “Bring Your Dog to Work Day.” Dog-friendly workplaces can be a huge benefit to employees, because they don’t have to pay for dog walking services or doggie day care. The Center for Disease Control, among other researchers, has conducted studies that indicate having dogs around can reduce employee stress and boost morale. In my experience at The Alliance Center, dogs are also a great conversation starter.

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Are you doing all you can to help your space meet its mission? I often talk to center managers who are frustrated with tenant partners that don’t engage in the building’s community and don’t collaborate.

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It’s useful to dust off the concept of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from your Psychology 101 course to understand why. Our tenant partners have many needs that must be met before center managers can expect larger outcomes.

First off, your building must meet your tenant’s basic needs. At a minimum, that means that your building needs to be structurally sound – no leaking roofs of holes in the wall – with functional building systems. Your tenants can’t work if it’s over 100 F / 37 C degrees outside and the HVAC won’t turn on.

Next, your tenant partners need to feel safe and secure when they are at work.  While ensuring that tenants don’t feel threatened is more intangible than patching plaster, it is incredibly important. Additionally, property must be secure. Many organizations spend thousands of dollars on equipment that they expect to be able to leave in their office.

Not to be outdone, shared space managers must keep their tenant partners’ productivity in mind. Printers and wi-fi must work as seamlessly as possible for everyone in the space, regardless of whether they run Windows 10, Snow Leopard, or Ubuntu (okay, maybe not Ubuntu, but you get the idea). Instead of figuring out a quick work around every time one person complains, take the time to cluster problems and come up with better fixes to the system that work for everyone. If your tenant partners don’t feel like they can get their work done in the space, then your building is a long way from meeting its mission.

Once your shared space operates like a high-functioning office should, you can turn your attention to the social networks within your walls. Are there opportunities for people to get to know each other, or do people scurry in every morning, eat lunch at their desks, and scurry back out a 5pm without ever talking to their neighbors? Happy hours, salad clubs, and bagel breakfasts help to break down barriers and build trust.

As trust and relationships build over time, your partner tenants will discover ways that their missions are compatible in new ways. This will lead to one-off collaborative events, and, with enough cultivation of the relationships, ultimately to long-term collaborative partnerships.
Does this hierarchy of needs resonate for your shared space? What’s missing? Chime in on the Ask-NCN members-only listserv. Not a member? Join today


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If you’ve been on Pinterest lately, you know that chalk boards have come back in a big way. Many nonprofit centers have embraced this trend, turning entire walls into writable surfaces by covering them with chalk board or white board paint. A recent conversation on Ask-NCN highlighted some of the things you should know before opening the paint can.

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