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04/Feb/2019

I’m going to be bold and say that connectivity between organizations is more important in the nonprofit sector than in any other industry. Why? Because the issues we work on are so immensely complex. Whether you're working homelessness or hunger, arts education or workforce development, international poverty alleviation or climate change, the causes of human behavior are connected to something upstream.  Our work is difficult. Every day, nonprofit leaders advocate for issues, deal with trauma, and handle complicated funding streams. Human beings have a bias for the status quo, and especially when resources are limited, it’s hard to change behavior, even if we’re convinced it will pay dividends.  I remember working in a development team early in my career where I often sacrificed opportunities to network and build connections because it wasn’t part of our culture.


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Jackie Cefola Director, Consulting and Shared Services
14/Jan/2019

Way back in 2010, I was fortunate to be part of an amazing team with NCN founder China Brotsky, former-Executive Director Roxanne Hanson, and former staff member Tuan Ngo. Together, we co-wrote NCN’s Guide to Shared Services. Our intention was to support NCN member organizations’ interests in collaborative access to back-office job functions, what we termed “shared services.” Our opening lines of the Guide read, “Nonprofit organizations face challenging times. Volatile financial markets are impacting funding opportunities while the demand for services as well as operating expenses are increasing. For the majority of nonprofit organizations with already limited resources these challenges indicate a need for a new paradigm.” Sound familiar? While many things have changed in the past 9 years, pressures are still driving organizations to conserve precious resources and explore collaborative strategies. As a result, many organizations are considering the potential to share back-office services.


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23/Oct/2017

An Evaluation! 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?


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07/Aug/2017

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.

ReCity Network, Durham, NC

 


 

The Flight Deck, Oakland, CA

What could happen OVERNIGHT? from Ragged Wing Ensemble on Vimeo.

 


 

Langs Community Centre, Cambridge, ON


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02/Aug/2017

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:


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24/Apr/2017

NCN started 2017 by kicking off the Evaluation Project, a peer learning opportunity we created with Elena Harman and Laura Sundstrom of Vantage Evaluation. Ten centers are participating in this 9-month process to understand how to approach impact measurement in a rigorous way. Each center will be supported as they complete their own evaluation. This is the first of a series of blogs on what we are learning through this critical process of making the case for shared space. The advantages to the approach we are using are twofold: first, the centers are essentially sharing the cost of an evaluation professional who would have cost them many times more if they contracted individually; secondly, by working in parallel, the centers are “speed” learning what works in various settings since they can see what their peers are trying and apply those lessons in their center. We have a great mix of centers: large, small, new and seasoned. We have some centers who are focused on a specific theme or issue area and some that are more general in terms of the types of tenants they house. This has helped us learn more about how different types of centers approach evaluation, why they want to do it and what kinds of information they are seeking.


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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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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