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Mike Gilbert
12/Sep/2016

Do Your Due Diligence: Four Things To Do Before Committing To a Vacant Building

This post is the first in a series by Mike Gilbert of The Jones Trust that will focus on how to repurpose existing and vacant buildings in a cost effective way. It is very important not to cut corners in the due diligence process before you commit to renovating a property – you might end up with some unfortunate and costly surprises.  

Many buildings throughout North America are unoccupied, in a state of disrepair and/or abandoned. These buildings present amazing opportunities to preserve history or unique architecture, and it can be more cost effective to renovate than to build new.  However, older buildings are typically constructed using asbestos containing materials in varying components.  Many of these facilities were built under older building codes with less stringent requirements for life, safety and accessibility.

Repurposing older buildings can deliver outstanding project economics and return on investment if we do the hard work on the front end. Before you commit to a vacant building, make sure to do your due diligence. Identifying and fully understanding the potential risks of building renovation is a monumental task for the skilled developer and even more challenging for an individual, organization or group that does not do so on a regular basis. It is critical to be conservative at this stage of the project, investigating all possible risks that can become known prior to commitment to proceed.

As you plan your project, here are some tips to keep yourself from purchasing a money pit.

  1. Assemble a team of experts. Numerous skills are required to put together a full understanding of the challenges involved in building renovation. You, as the lead developer, are like the head coach, matching your player’s skills with roles on the project. If you don’t have the skills already on your staff, you may need to hire paid consultants Some of the roles you will need filled include:
  • Environmental Safety Assessment (ESA)
  • Building Envelope Assessment
  • ADA Assessment
  • Mechanical and Electrical Systems Evaluation
  1. Conduct an ESA. This process will identify any important hazards that must be addressed during the renovation process. Environmental remediation can be extremely expensive, can destroy project economics and potentially kill a deal in progress. Typical ESA costs are between $3,000 and $7,500 for the initial work, although costs can vary significantly based on factors including size, age, location and more. This step cannot be avoided.
  2. Bring on an architect to do Building Envelope and ADA Assessments. The Building Envelope Assessment will give you a fair assessment of the weather tightness condition of the building including roof, windows, exterior skin, expansion and control joints, etc. The ADA assessment will help in the design process for compliance and can sometimes be expensive if new ramps are needed or if elevator upgrades are required. Cost of this investigation should run between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on the scope.
  3. Evaluate the mechanical and electrical systems. This process determines the suitability of the existing systems to accommodate the desired improvements. This evaluation is normally completed by a mechanical and electrical engineering firm. The investigation should cost between $2,000 and $6,000.

The due diligence phase of project evaluation is a very detailed process and can range in cost from as little as 1% of your project budget up to 3%, depending on the scope of work and level of detail desired.

Analysis of the various reports will allow you to fully develop a preliminary renovation budget that will feed into the pro forma budget for the project. Our next post will dive into strategies to consider in developing a preliminary project budget and feasibility study.


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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:


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Saul Ettlin
21/Aug/2016

Is your organization ready to get out of the rental market and build a lasting asset? You should consider including shared space for other organizations as part of your plan. While designing your project to generate revenue from shared space users, can strengthen your case to lenders and improve the long-term financial sustainability of your project, that’s not the real value. Shared space connects your organization and its work to a wider community of nonprofits or social ventures, increases staff retention by making your organization a more vibrant and interesting place to work, and raises your organization's profile through your role as a dynamic community hub.


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15/Aug/2016

Lately I’ve been working with a number of organizations who are in the early stages of a new shared space project. It’s an exciting time, but it can also quickly become stressful and chaotic. Here are some survival tips that will hopefully make your journey smoother. #1 – Communicate. Your project may shift, the ideal location may change, your partners may have second thoughts, but someone has to maintain clear communication to a variety of stakeholders (potential funders, potential tenants, government agencies, media, real estate professionals, etc). Commit to some type of regular communication, whether it’s a newsletter or notes emailed to a distribution list. It can prevent misunderstandings down the line and it establishes norms for your shared space around transparency, inclusivity and decision-making.


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08/Aug/2016

One of the biggest reasons nonprofit centers and coworking spaces exists is to give people the chance to get to one another – to connect in the kitchen, chat around the coffee pot, and share ideas. At the same time, so many of us live at least a part of our lives online, checking Facebook and twitter, searching for connections on LinkedIn, or exploring the latest MMORPG. Connecting in person can be a huge breath of fresh air.


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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11/Jul/2016

NCN helps nonprofit organizations share many kinds of organizational infrastructure – not just space. You may see or hear us talk about “shared services” from time to time. We define shared services broadly as the collaborative use of resources across traditional organizational boundaries. Multiple organizations, or multiple programs within a larger organization, establish shared services to collaboratively and more efficiently make use of equipment, staff, program resources, and much more. Most nonprofit organizations have a traditional organizational model with their own core operations such as purchasing, public relations, human resources, IT support, equipment, and workspace. Financial pressures drive nonprofit organizations to look for new, cost-effective structures. Shared services offer a long-term solution by allocating much-needed resources to multiple organizations for a fee. Virtually any resource that does not uniquely fulfill an organization’s mission has the potential to be shared, including, but not limited to, things like busses, IT, software, reception, purchasing services, payroll, HR, volunteer management, and client intake. Why should my organization consider shared services? There are five key benefits:


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05/Jul/2016

That’s what I remembered about active shooter training when I heard a scream in the hallway while on a call with a client last week. I was at the Alliance Center, where NCN is a tenant, in a small conference room, surrounded by glass. I saw people running down the hall, shouting that someone had a gun. Then, I tried to hide in the tiny room when I saw a man walk by pointing a gun. After he passed, I darted to the bathroom across the hall since I didn’t have a safe exit route. As luck (if you can call it that) would have it, the shooter only wanted to harm his soon-to-be ex-wife and himself, not the rest of us.


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