Collaborative working spaces are becoming more prevalent throughout the United States and Canada. We recently had the pleasure of hosting our first Capacity Camp. It was held at the Electric City Innovation Center, a collaborative working space located in Schenectady, NY. For individuals and small organizations, access to physical resources like office space, printing services, conference rooms, and more at discounted rates is an attractive option. But did you know there are dedicated centers just for nonprofits of any size?
The absolute best resource for learning about collaborative spaces for nonprofits is the Nonprofit Centers Network (NCN), based in Denver, CO. They’ve been in operation since the early 2000s. They now have a membership of over 170 nonprofit focused centers around North America. Yet what are the benefits of working at a nonprofit center as opposed to going at things on your own?
Nonprofit centers offer organizations the capability of generating more revenue. This can be especially impactful if the organization is small and cannot afford their own office space. It can be advantageous to be located and working in a space designed specifically for nonprofit work. Grant-making entities may view it favorably and thus give you a greater chance at obtaining grants.
According to a study commissioned by the NCN, 72 percent of tenants in nonprofit centers report moderate to significant improvement in community awareness and credibility of their organizations.
That same study also found significant improvement in capacity building in operations and programs, with some interesting findings:
- 62% said that collaboration with other tenants led to moderate to significant improvements in their effectiveness and efficiency;
- 68% report moderate to significant impact on their organization’s ability to achieve its organizational mission;
- 53% report moderate to significant improvements in the size and scope of their programs;
- 38% report moderate to significant improvements in the quality of back office services.
The reason nonprofit centers work so well is that it fosters collaboration. Several nonprofits working together will have a far greater impact than a single nonprofit attempting to solve the problems in their city, town, or rural community. One of the best examples of this is the Chicago Literacy Alliance Literacenter, which is the first nonprofit center dedicated to literacy nonprofits.
Several Neon clients are members of the Chicago Literacy Alliance. We’ve been able to see first hand the impact of what bringing organizations together can do. With over 100 member organizations, the impact of the nonprofits working in the space affects over 18 million people each year.
Furthermore, the center itself showcases a beautiful space. Nonprofits of all sizes who can come together in monthly Confab sessions. These are events that focus on best practices for nonprofits, resource sharing and storytelling, and building relationships with each other to further their collective work.
Shared spaces greatly accelerate the ability for nonprofits to feel comfortable working together, as a recent study by the Nonprofit Centers Network found. Specifically, “greater frequency of interactions will lead to reciprocity, where mutually beneficial relationships develop and behaviors emerge that demonstrate give-and-take.”
Cost savings is one of the most critical benefits associated with nonprofit centers. 78% of NCN’s survey respondents said that the cost of the space was a critically important characteristic.
Many nonprofit centers leverage their collective power to drive down service costs in other areas. For instance, the Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance operates a nonprofit center and statewide membership program that offers discounts on a wide variety of services beyond inexpensive rent and access to shared utilities. These can come in the form of obvious items like discounts on technology to less obvious ones, such as the Alliance taking on the cost of advocating for nonprofit’s needs to the state government.
As part of our capacity building investment in local communities, we are proud to announce that we have initiated several nonprofit center collaborative agreements. The Chicago Literacy Alliance and the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance are two such examples where our company will be offering discounted services, free consultation, and coordination of collaborative learning spaces in order to drive growth for members of nonprofit centers.