In November last year, five Colorado nonprofits moved into a free-flowing, bright office as part of the Denver Shared Spaces Project. Think the nonprofit version of The Real World: five (somewhat) strangers, picked to work in an office together, to find out what happens when people work side-by-side towards the greater good.
Unlike the drama-laden show, these “roommates” in the Colorado Collaborative for Nonprofits get along famously. (No pulling hair or name calling here.) If your organization is thinking about doing something similar, here are their tips on how to make the most of it:
1. Plan. Thoroughly.
Sally Hallingstad, Director of Events & Marketing for Metro Volunteers: Define expectations ahead of time. What’s the purpose of the partnership? What are the potential ways to collaborate, beyond space, and how far will it go?
Alyssa Kopf, CEO of Community Shares of Colorado: Bring in an organizational anthropologist to learn what kinds of organizations will be in the space and what they value. And try to gauge ahead of time as best you can if you’ll all play nicely together.
Renny Fagan, President and CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association: Staff participation at all levels is key, and the long process of inclusion and communication is well worth it. “When you include people in change, they want to make it work.”
Dace West, Director of Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships: Be aware that collaboration is a tricky thing, and that you’ll most likely be looking at a “marriage of organizations with very different needs.” There’s also the complexity of real estate, timing, and priorities to consider, which makes it especially important for partners to be thoughtful about how they’ll work together, and what their shared vision will be. After all, it’s more than just a space and a place to be.
2. Be patient, and adjust accordingly.
Melinda Higgs, President/CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center: Even when you plan, you may need to plan (again) – especially when you don’t get your first choice of space. “We ended up focusing on the space planning and then, once the space planning was essentially complete, we moved onto the program planning.” In other words: be flexible!
Sally: From kitchen duties to shared printers, it takes time to figure out what works. The domesticity of a shared office space – like, what to do with six microwaves? – can make for an adjustment period.
3. Imagine working beyond desks.
Sally: A shared space is designed to promote collaboration, and it helps to keep that in mind. At the Collaborative, for example, some organizations have their staffs spread out, sitting side-by-side with other organizations. The eventual hope is that the first floor training center will someday host programming they can work on together.
4. Think toward the future.
Alyssa: A process like this demands long-term thinking. “Going through shared space planning is a great opportunity to broaden your thinking about your mission, the lifecycle of your organization, and how you want to contribute to collective impact.”
Have a question for a member of the Collaborative? Feel free to contact an organization via their Idealist page, or leave a comment here.