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Brad Wood, River Valley Resources, Madison, IN
08/Jul/2019

We are excited that today’s blog author will be featured as one of 8 presentations at this year’s Sharing Innovation 2019. Like what you read? Register today at www.nonprofitcenters.org/sharing

Stop, collaborate and listen – more than just the lyrics to a popular song from the ‘90s, the Clearinghouse of Jefferson County Indiana has taken these words to heart. Since its inception in 2007, the Clearinghouse team has been through a series of peaks and valleys, always focused on the end goal of creating a larger network of social change. Created as a multi-tenant facility where workforce development entities and community agencies live and work under one roof, the Clearinghouse was the brainchild of River Valley Resources (RVR). Originally founded to provide workforce development services, RVR’s mission has grown to include a variety of services to help individuals become self-sustaining. The organization currently provides education and training services in 17 Indiana counties and employs more than 80 people.

These three words – stop, collaborate, and listen – have been an integral part of RVR’s process to create and sustain a vision of building a network of community partners all working together to help individuals become self-reliant.

It seems counter-intuitive that the process starts with the word stop. But over the years, we have learned that it is by stopping to assess what’s around us and responding accordingly that true magic begins. Sometimes, in such a large organization with multiple services, we can get so caught up in what we are doing as individuals that we don’t stop to recognize where others can add value. It is by practicing the pause that organizations discover there is more than enough if we all sit at the same table.

Stopping also shifts focus from a singular mission to one that is expansive and eliminates the duplication of efforts. Because we have practiced the art of stopping to collaborate and listen, our relationships are non-competitive, holistic, and client centric. We have a deep knowledge and understanding of what each member of our team provides, allowing us to link clients to the services that best meet their needs. We put this in practice by holding a monthly Clearinghouse meeting where each team is represented and has a voice. We use this time to talk about upcoming programs, events, and new partnerships that are mutually beneficial to the mission of assisting clients in becoming self-dependent.

As important as it is to stop, it would be pointless without a genuine focus on collaboration. It is one thing to share space with other organizations involved in similar work. However, it is another thing entirely to set the ego aside and approach each conversation from a place of needing to understand the perspective of the other party. When we can free ourselves from our ego, it opens up a whole new channel to see a clearer picture of the work we are all part of. This clear picture allows us to see how all of the pieces fit and how we are all connected as agents of change.

A perfect example of this is something we call the Madison Model. In Madison, we have a female correctional facility that focuses on re-entry. We sat down with their administrators and the local community college to find a way to integrate these women into our community during their pre-release. Through listening to their needs, we developed a transitions model that helps them learn job readiness skills and earn a certification in high wage, high demand occupations. This prison partnership extends to helping feed hungry kids through the Summer Meals program, and is the only one in the nation that has a partnership with a correctional facility. The women volunteers love giving back to the community and one said, “I love volunteering because I know my kids receive free summer meals back home.”

This collaborative effort would not have been possible without the patience of listening. These out-of-the-box ideas can only come to fruition when we are not dismissive of things that have never been done before. As we teach our students in the transitions class, effective communication utilizes three strategies to positively address issues and nurture a relationship of equals – communicate purposefully, communicate honestly, and communicate responsibly[1]. We have found that listening, when paired with this style of communication, leads to our most successful projects.

It’s easy to say all this, but practicing it is another story. This is especially true in rural communities where resource scarcity is a reality. But as we continue to grow our network, we realize that we don’t have to do this work alone. It is a beautiful thing that we can focus on our piece and trust that our partners will continue to do their part well too. There is a quote by Brene Brown that says, “Opposite of scarcity is not abundance, it’s simply enough.” When we stop, collaborate, and listen we don’t have to solve the problems of the whole world at once. We do what we can with what we have and it is simply enough.

[1] “Employing Interdependence.” On Course: Study Skills Plus, by Skip Downing, Wadsworth, 2016, pp. 135-162.


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10/Jun/2019

Recently I was very fortunate to tag along with a delegation of incredible community and student leaders from the Boston area who participate in the Solidarity Economy Initiative and Center for Economic Democracy and Tufts New Economy. Together we visited Montreal to learn from practitioners about local efforts to build the social or solidarity economy. Speaking with local practitioners, we learned about an available apartment designated specifically “for someone who will never earn income again;” a seasonal, manufactured, beach front - designed on land used to store snow in winter – that boosts social engagement and enjoyment of the coast; and a flourishing farmer’s marketplace that offers community lunch and movie nights. Our visit included time spent with:


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Dr. Tammy Butler
09/Jul/2018

Utilizing the social ecological model (SEM) as a framework, this model recognizes the relationships that exist between an individual and his or her environment within and across various systems. The levels within the SEM include: (a) individual, (b) interpersonal (social networks), (c) community (formal and informal social networks), (d) societal (social institutions), and (e) political (public policy). The model addresses the complexities and interdependences between the socioeconomic, cultural, political, environmental, organizational, psychological, and biological determinants of behavior (Stokols, 1996). The application of the social ecological model identifies various differential constraints and opportunities for accessing social, financial, and community resources when situated within each of the social systems.


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07/May/2018

As we prepare for Sharing Innovation 2018 in October, we thought we'd take a trip down memory lane to our 2017 event. Whether you missed last year or need a little convincing to attend this year (as if!?), check out the first of our four Sharing Innovation 2017 Blog Video Series below. With two speakers each over last year's themes of Technology for Collaboration, Adaptive Partnerships, Smart Growth and Sustainability, we're certain you'll walk away with not only some fresh innovative ideas, but also the desire to (re)connect with the NCN community this October! So without further ado, this week we focus on…


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Saul Ettlin
13/Mar/2017

When I lived in Toronto, I worked for an organization that made its home at the Centre for Social Innovation. The Centre had been open for just a few months, and it was great to be a participant in the burgeoning space as the tenant community gelled and management explored how it was going to best meet the needs of the center’s community. As someone who has spent much of their working life in nonprofits and studying nonprofit management, I was quickly hooked on this model of nonprofit shared space that looks to create efficiencies through shared amenities/office services and bolster effectiveness through peer learning and collaboration between tenant community members.


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Leena Waite
14/Nov/2016

In the wake of the election, no matter who you voted for or if you were watching from the North, the results have shown the true polarities of opinions, emotions, classes, and struggles that American’s face. There was a large sum of individual voices mainstream media did not even pick up on in the polls. Whatever you believe or hoped, I am recognizing the need to acknowledge these unheard voices.


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05/Sep/2016

Running a nonprofit shared space can be a challenge. In addition to the hard skills of leasing, facility maintenance, and tenant improvements, nonprofit center managers must also be equipped with the soft skills of culture management and facilitating partnerships in order to create meaningful collaborations among the tenant partners under one roof. In our 2015 State of the Shared Space Sector survey, we at NCN wanted to answer some long standing questions about what it really takes to run a nonprofit center. The full findings of our research can be found in Managing Collaboration: Staffing & Salaries in Shared Space (available for free download). Here are a few highlights:


Nada Zohdy
01/Aug/2016

I recently had the privilege of participating in two stimulating NCN convenings in Philadelphia.

As Manager of the OpenGov Hub in Washington, DC (an NCN member), I sometimes wonder if there are other people who can relate to the uniqueness of my role. On any given day, I juggle a plethora of activities, from working on the big picture to the more mundane (like explaining our unique work to visitors on a regular basis, brainstorming programs and partnerships, improving our members’ day to day experience at the Hub, and designing events and other ways for our members to collaborate for greater efficiency and effectiveness).

But NCN has given me exactly what I needed – a supportive network of other folks who understand the ins and outs of the unique, mission-driven business of running nonprofit collaborative spaces. The coworking movement in general is still quite nascent, and the nonprofit segment within it perhaps even more so.

Coming together with other operators of nonprofit resource centers presented an invaluable opportunity for me to reflect on the OpenGov Hub’s own strengths and challenges. The gathering sparked countless ideas for me on how the Hub might improve: how we enhance improve our daily operations, align our business model with our mission, create the culture we seek, evaluate our impact, and perhaps most importantly, facilitate and promote meaningful collaboration in our community.

Here are just some of my takeaways:

Day 1 – Creating High Impact Shared Spaces

This workshop focused on business models, cultures, collaboration efforts, and evaluating our impact evaluation.

  • When it comes to collaboration, we aspire to do it all: build trust, connect dots, and track collective impact. NCN staff presented a helpful typology of three approaches shared spaces take to promote collaboration between tenant members: trust builders (help members get to know each other as individuals), dot connectors (help find alignment across areas of work), and impact trackers (help manage higher-order, ongoing collaborations). It might be ambitious to strive for achieving all three (and not necessarily simultaneously), but I’m excited to test, learn and iterate new approaches (in the spirit of our shared value of innovation!) to tap the enormous collaborative potential in our network. In fact, the OpenGov Hub has just published its first-ever strategy that articulates how we might be more deliberate in better fulfilling our mission.

Day 2 – Overcoming Barriers to Nonprofit Resource Sharing

This session provided insights from the forefront of social science research about how and why people behave as they do, to help us understand some of the deeper behavioral and psychological barriers to of getting organizations to share resources.

  • To effectively promote collaboration, we should aspire for “self-interest properly understood.” To take a line from one of my favorite political philosophers Alexis de Tocqueville, self-interest properly understood I think is all about recognizing that when we make efforts to improve our collective welfare, we all benefit tremendously as individuals. I think this is both a realistic and an ambitious target for individuals seeking to promote collaboration between organizations. We are all naturally inclined to think of ourselves and our organizations first; but shifting our mindsets even slightly help open us to engaging/working with others in a way that is mutually beneficial for outsized impact. Most importantly, the self-interest properly understood mindset helps us pursue collaboration opportunities in a way that’s driven by a relentless pursuit of best achieving our respective bottom-line missions about why we really do what we do.

So, how does the OpenGov Hub fit in the growing ecosystem of nonprofit coworking spaces?

1) We’re well-positioned to meaningfully collaborate, as an intentionally themed space. It seems that every coworking space (for or nonprofit) aspires to be more than just a space. But there is often a somewhat general common thread that unites tenants (ex: an interest in social change). This realization makes me feel even more confident in the OpenGov Hub’s ability to promote meaningful collaboration, because we anyone who wishes to join our community has to have some connection to our opengov theme. This means we can design all sorts of programs and activities specifically target the issues in this field, in addition to more general capacity-building efforts (like helping train member organizations on fundraising or communications).

2) We’re fairly large and mature compared to other spaces. With almost 40 current member organizations and about 200 individuals who regularly work out of our space, we’re on the larger side of the spectrum. (On average centers have 12 tenant organizations and about 70 individual members.)

3) Financial self-sustainability is one of our greatest strengths. Most nonprofit shared spaces – like most nonprofits in general – need to rely on philanthropy to fund their operations/cover their costs. While the OpenGov Hub received a few founding sponsorships in the beginning, we currently run entirely on earned income. This frees us up to pursue new and creative approaches to better fulfilling our mission.

These two fruitful days with the NCN network also left me with lots of big-picture questions – like how organizations really learn, how we can create safe spaces for organizations to learn from failures, and how the OpenGov Hub might adapt its governance structure(s) to help institutionalize a culture of collaboration.

But I left Philly feeling fully armed with renewed confidence, passion, a plethora of ideas, and sharpened tools in my toolbox to help our unique community here at the OpenGov Hub reach its fullest potential.


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Jennifer Pedroni
25/Jul/2016

An event at our shared space has me changing my mind about the Olympics. For the past year I have been working with the tenants in our nonprofit center - the Community Partners Center for Health and Human Services (the Center) - on creating a collaborative environment designed to support partnerships among our organizations. We have a vision of providing one-stop, comprehensive services to families in the community. Over the course of our work together I have learned so much about what it takes to create the type of place where everyone feels comfortable and folks know each other. I am trusting that by creating the right environment individuals will make deeper connections. You can’t work well with someone unless you have strong and trusting relationships with them. Relationship before task is my mantra.


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18/Jul/2016

As my partner and I prepared to host a meal for his growing number of coworkers, I realized that many of the key ingredients for sharing a meal also apply to shared space. It’s no wonder that many nonprofit centers use the breaking of bread as a gateway to bigger, more important forms of collaboration. We learned at Streaming Social Good that collaboration isn’t something that’s natural – it’s something that you have to practice. A potluck is an easy way to practice and reflect on the principles of collaboration, while gathering with friends.  Here’s are my reflections on how the key ingredients of a good potluck apply to shared spaces:

  • The goal is clear! At great potlucks, you know why you’re there – to have fun and eat some great food. The same is true of strong shared spaces – every person knows why they’ve joined this group, why they’ve moved their offices under one roof with their partners.
  • The host gets things rolling, while inviting others to share their skills. The host of a potluck provides a little structure to the shindig, outlining the time and date, and the list of things that will be needed. Like a host, a shared space manager helps their community to identify the skills needed to meet their goals.
  • Invite people to volunteer. Once the menu is outlined, you invite people to volunteer to play a role. Whether someone brings a three-layer chocolate cake they worked on for hours or someone just grabbed a bag of chips and dip from the store, each role is important for a plentiful meal. In shared space, the leaders need to recognize all the contributions, small and large, that make the community possible. Everyone has a specialty that will shine when you let people play to their strengths.
  • Reap the rewards together. The best part of a potluck is eating the fruits of everyone’s labor. In the meal, you get to appreciate what has come together. While it may not be perfect, it will be bountiful. In shared space, it’s important to remember to celebrate the things that have happened because your community has come together under one roof. Savor the successes, no matter how small.

Take a moment to think about your shared space. If it were a potluck, would it be one that you’d show up to? If not, how can you realign things to make it easier for people to participate? Sometimes what seems to be a complex problem can be very simple if you look at it in a different light.


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