Charity leaders often get caught in scarcity thinking. Squeezing blood from a stone could be the theme of budget planning each year. A common decision to minimize expenses is to move the organization into the “cheapest” office space possible (think strip-malls in suburbia). I often refer to charity administration staff as “the people under the stairs”. In my travels visiting fundraising teams I find that even in big charities administrators are often found in cold corners (where space-heaters are required) and off-site spaces.
Take a look at Canada’s corporations right now. They are quickly changing their working spaces to LEED certified, open and collaborative space with hot-desks and integrated technology. This is not just because they have money to spend on the latest human-resource trend, no this is about being efficient and effective. They understand that staff retention, organizational health and productivity IS tied to the place that we work in. Colliers Canada Not-For-Profit group are experts at helping organizations find the right place and space that matches not just a tight budget but the need to create a positive workplace using productive work-space. They have recently channelled their years of expertise and experience into a must-read report for social-profit leaders, boards and advisors. A truly helpful resource for any charity who is looking to relocate in the near future and fears their options fall only into the ‘cut costs’ category.
At a panel discussion hosted by the RBC Not-For-Profit and Public Sector team I heard a powerful story of place. It’s called “Foundation House”, a collaboration between the Counselling, Laidlaw & Lawson Foundations, which includes a number of dynamic organizations like the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN), Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC), Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, GrantBook and more. Bruce Lawson, President and CEO of The Counselling Foundation of Canada shares why this is more than just “shared space”. He says, “Foundation House is meant to be a place where we create a community of practice and collaboration for philanthropy in Canada. Not only will there be several organization in the space, but we will also provide a home for the hub organizations in our sector to create an ideas marketplace”.
One of the hot topics of the future in charity will be about “charity mergers”. These mergers will be challenging for so many reasons. Besides the legal and governance issues, there are so many hurdles to overcome before organizations can merge. For now, proximity provides a platform to grow closer and start down the road to more collaboration and perhaps, merged missions.
Across Canada, Community Foundations are leaders in the art of building shared spaces for the social-sector to thrive. In Calgary, the Kahanoff Centre is entering its final building phase. The existing tower was originally purchased in 2001 by The Kahanoff Foundation - a private charitable foundation established in 1979 by Sydney Kahanoff, a Calgary oil and gas executive and philanthropist whose vision was to offer economical office space to non-profit organizations. Now as part of the Calgary Foundation and a completion of a significant expansion in the summer of 2016, the Kahanoff Centre now provides not-for-profit organizations with a long-term solution to the historically high cost of office space. There is also a conference space that fosters innovation in the charitable community and provides access to technology and resources normally not available to nonprofits. “There is productive power in bumping into each other” says Laily Pirbhai, Vice-President of Donor Engagement at the Calgary Foundation, an organization known for their leadership in activating the creative benefits of collaboration in capital, charitable and civic endeavours.
Collaborative creativity is in the DNA of the Centre for Social Innovation which, for well over a decade has defined the concept of coworking spaces for entrepreneurs of a for-profit and charitable nature. It has expanded to several buildings in Ontario and now New York. The Pillar Nonprofit Network in London Ontario has moved past the successful community bond stage to host a shared space. All across Canada the sector is realizing that place and space matters. It matters to our bottom line, but also our impact and ability to innovate. Just recently my own team relocated to a more purpose-built space. Every single day our team comes into work is a better day now that we have a space that works as hard as we do. One of the hot topics of the future of social-profit is the public desire for organizations to merge. There are so many reasons why this will be a big challenge. Besides the legal and governance issues, there are so many hurdles to overcome before organizations can even consider this. For now, proximity provides a platform to grow closer and increase impact through the collaborative use of resources.
Does your community have a space like this? I’d love to hear about how your social-profit community is embracing collaborative spaces where you are in Canada!
Paul Nazareth is VP Community Engagement with CanadaHelps.org, Canada’s leading charity that brings together charities, donors and advisors online. He has worked with charities big and small, as a philanthropic advisor with a bank and now with thousands of charities across Canada. Paul is Chair of the Humber College Postgraduate Fundraising Program Advisory Committee, teaches fundraising with Georgian College and is a national instructor with the Canadian Association of Gift Planners. Find him on Linkedin or @UinvitedU on Twitter.