Should Your Nonprofit Join the Shared Space Revolution?

If your nonprofit is still in its early stages and you can’t imagine renting — let alone buying — an office facility, consider space sharing. Also referred to as “co-working,” sharing space with other organizations is a major trend in the nonprofit sector. Even established charities can enjoy benefits such as lower costs, flexibility and opportunities to collaborate.

Justified popularity

What kinds of organizations share space? All kinds, but they’re particularly popular with small nonprofit and for-profit businesses, as well as freelancers, contractors and sole practitioners. The primary advantage of sharing space is cost savings. Splitting the rent is only part of the equation. Think about how much your group could save by also sharing supplies, equipment, utilities and maintenance expenses.

Flexibility is another perk, especially if your organization is just getting off the ground and doesn’t want to commit to a multiyear lease. Even if it’s free to work out of your home and hold meetings in coffee shops, such arrangements can seem unprofessional and even hold a fledgling nonprofit back. But in a survey conducted by The Nonprofit Centers Network, an overwhelming majority of organizations reported increased “credibility” when working in a shared workspace.

Another survey, conducted by Deskmag (a publication covering shared workspace issues), reports that, in the prior 12 months, 70% of shared space participants collaborated with fellow tenants. Daily exposure to other organizations can facilitate new ideas, challenge old ones and possibly open avenues for joint projects.

Meeting a variety of needs

An explosion of interest in shared space has given rise to workspaces that provide tenants with back office administrative, HR, IT and other support. Examples include the 24,000-square-foot Community Partners Center for Health and Human Services in Colmar, Pennsylvania, and the Posner Center for International Development in Denver. The Inc. in Seattle even combines shared workspace with a child care center.  

There are other shared space options. Some private foundations have more room than they need and lease the remainder to nonprofits. Because foundations are tax-exempt, they’re able to pass savings along to their tenants in the form of reduced rent. And don’t overlook the possibility that one of your corporate supporters would be willing to donate workspace. You won’t know unless you ask.

Move cautiously

Not all nonprofits can successfully share space. Consider how your nonprofit’s unique culture will hold up in a shared arrangement and whether it might clash with that of another non- or for-profit tenant. In general, organizations with similar values and complementary missions make better partners.

Also watch out for legal issues — including lease obligations, liabilities, compliance requirements and confidentiality. To help head off future conflicts, consult an attorney before signing a shared space arrangement.

Finding the right space

Finding a shared space may be easier than you think. Such arrangements have grown exponentially in the past couple of years and simple online searches can point you in the right direction. Try nonprofitcenters.org, your state’s nonprofit agency or regional sites. Or ask other nonprofit leaders and your professional advisors for recommendations.

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