An Update from Los Angeles
There are over 1.6 million tax-exempt organizations in the United States, and the majority operate with budgets under $100,000. These are very lean and efficient operations under stress due to increasing demand for services and continuing financial volatility.
In my opinion, the easy opportunities to reduce operating costs have long ago been discovered and implemented. We’re now into a time of more creative transition. Sometimes strategies involve multiple organizations coming together to share services or space.
What Are Shared Services?
I define shared services as the collaborative use of resources across traditional organizational boundaries. Shared resources might include:
- Physical things: office space, meeting rooms, copiers and kitchens
- Skills: human resources, financial management, security
- Other programmatic tools: client intake forms, information management systems
Any resource that is not uniquely developed for a specific organization offers an opportunity for sharing.
Earlier this May the NonprofitCenters Network hosted Building Opportunities: the Nonprofit Shared Space and Services Conference. Over 300 attendees convened in downtown Los Angeles, representing dozens of organizations from the public, private and non-profit sectors, all providers or potential providers of shared services and space.
The conference offered a staggering variety of presentations ranging from Planning and Visioning for Impact to Green Building Tools, to Evaluating Impact. One highlight (of many) was the discussion of results from the Network’s study of mult-tenant centers, Measuring Collaboration: the Benefits and Impacts of Nonprofit Centers. The executive summary of this fantastic study is available for free download at www.nonprofitcenters.org.
Benefits and Impacts
Among the many interesting findings:
- Some organizations have shared space for a while and many others are relatively new to the experience: 23% of nonrprofit centers surveyed were founded over 20 years ago; at the same time nearly 33% of centers were less than 5 years old.
- Shared services are often coupled with nonprofit centers: over 50% of nonprofit centers provide shared networking events, education services (including training), reception and information technology services.
- Collaboration extends among tenant organizations of nonprofit centers: 46% of tenant organizations reported collaborating with monthly frequency on programs or services.
The exciting conference agenda also included site visits to the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and Magnolia Place, both tremendous multi-tenant service centers that have deep impact in their communities by offering affordable office space and meeting rooms, as well as a variety of shared service offerings. The conference itself was hosted by the California Endowment, a nexus for public health organizations offering funding and evaluation support, shared office space and meeting rooms among its many services.
I found this combination of learning, case study and networking to be extremely inspiring. For the many attendees who are exploring or planning for their shared service offering, I hope they felt the same. And for those who couldn’t join in person, resources are available to help move you forward.
Resources for Further Thought
- Audio recordings of many conference panels available for sale
- Guide to Shared Services: Collaborative Solutions featuring step-by-step planning advice and numerous one-page case studies of diverse shared service offerings, published by the NonprofitCenters Network and available for sale through Third Sector New England
- The Nonprofit Collaboration Database, hosted by the Foundation Center with development by the Lodestar Foundation