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Shared spaces can be platforms for your community to access new funding sources. I’ve come across a few new initiatives that could be a great fit for you. As shared spaces, you are running centers that are at the crossroads of many organizations, issues areas and constituencies. These are great opportunities to demonstrate the impact of the diversity of your tenants/members and to provide a value back to them by bringing them potential new resources.

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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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According to NCN's 2015 State of the Sector Survey collaboration is a goal that most nonprofit shared space centers share, yet few feel they have achieved the level of collaboration among tenants that they expected. For this reason, I found The Myths and Reality of Nonprofit Collaboration: Observations from Six Years in the Trenches by John MacIntosh, Partner, SeaChange Capital Partners and Lois Savage, President, The Lodestar Foundation interesting and relevant for our network. Although this article deals with nonprofit collaboration outside of the colocation model, I think they highlight many issues that shared space centers face.

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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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I've been curious about the Ford Foundation's new organizational strategy, FordForward. The Ford Foundation is changing how they do their work and shifting their focus to the addressing inequity. The Ford Foundation has supported shared spaces in the past and their support for arts-based nonprofit centers looks to be in doubt for the future, but their pronouncements have even broader implications for our field.

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This report sums up what so many nonprofits have discovered the hard way – that you often get what you paid for! $1 buildings aren’t the silver bullet they seem to be and need to be evaluated just like any other facility project. Acquisition costs are often just a small part of the overall development cost.

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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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Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, because it’s all about community engagement. There’s no other time of the year where you go out and knock on your neighbors doors – anyone with a porch light on is extending an open invitation. Halloween festivities in the workplace also invite people to reach out to people they don’t know very well and start a conversation, whether it’s an autumn happy hour, a lively costume contest, or simply gathering around the candy bowl in the first week of November.

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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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