Most centers are only seeing an increase in funding next year if they have developed funding from another (usually new) source. Of course, as we know, the new money brings additional work with it, and the need to track staff time across to this new fund objective, as well as allocate other costs. The new source must also bear its share of indirect costs. New projects don’t always break even the first few months.
Which could leave you with a need to reduce some of your fixed costs. The biggest of these fixed costs, typically, is rent.
Through the years you may have seen examples of nonprofits sharing space in order to reduce cost. Maybe your center has two or three empty offices that have ended up being catchall storage. Clean the space out, find a home for everything or if it has been long enough, get rid of it. And think about who would be good to have in that space.
I have seen arrangements like this that are strictly partnerships of convenience. In our Center’s first office there was a local attorney who wanted space in Stockton, KS. We rented him space, reduced the space charged to our grant, and had a little profit left over to keep as discretionary dollars. We didn’t really work with him, since his area of law was unrelated to our work, but it was a good partnership all the same.
Probably the most note-worthy and the most entrepreneurial of shared spaces is the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, CA, which is one of the partners in the Ed Roberts Campus( ERC) design, construction and use. The ERC commemorates the life and work of Edward V. Roberts, an early leader in the independent living movement of persons with disabilities. Ed believed in the strength of collaborative efforts: He called it “working toward our preferred future.” The website for the ERC further states, “The ERC is a universally designed, transit–oriented campus located at the Ashby BART Station in Berkeley, California. The 80,000 sq. ft. project incorporates exhibition space, community meeting rooms, a child development center, fitness center, offices for non–profit organizations and vocational training facilities. The building integrates sophisticated design responses to the issues of universal design and environmentally sustainable development.”
This is exemplary, first, because of the vision and planning of the partners, including CIL, the World Institute on Disability, the Disability Rights and Education Fund, Through the Looking Glass, Computer Technologies Program, Bay Area Outreach and Recreation and the Center for Accessible Technology. Second, the scope of sharing a building this size is immense. A number of the tenants in the building, while they don’t co-own the building, benefit greatly from co-location with these entities. Coordination on this scale is not simple. The partners of the ERC developed a separate board for the oversight of the project, and thought about both shared and individual support (like a receptionist, security, maintenance and housekeeping).
While your situation is most likely a smaller setting than what is found in Berkeley, you still may have a lot to gain from considering and planning for colocation. Sometimes the city or county will work with you to bring resources together for their community. They might build a community building that houses key resources for community access, making it convenient for you to work with partners, and for the community members to access everything they are looking for in one stop. Sharing bathrooms, conference rooms and waiting rooms can reduce everyone’s cost for those aspects of the space.
In other communities, multiple nonprofits have come together to share not just building resources, but some of their management costs, like sharing the contract time of an accountant who is well-versed in federal funding requirements and practices.
In a recent article in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Larry Levin said: “Once a marriage of convenience among nonprofits in a similar sector, the growing trend of colocation shows it can be based on any number of factors, including a shared desire for geographic proximity to a community resource or the goal of serving as a catalyst for community change. There’s even a push to see nonprofit facilities and nodes play a significant role in urban and regional planning.”
Whatever your reason or your process, whether in your building or the building of one of your partners, sharing space means sharing costs, and that may save you money. If you use shared space, tell us who you share with, and the advantages and disadvantages of your arrangement.
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