Shared Spaces: A Continuing Education

Shared Space and Shared Services. Those are the current terms.

I had only recently learned to use “multi-tenant nonprofit center,” as in Together Center is one of the first multi-tenant nonprofit centers in the country.

That is now old news, apparently. That the term for our model is still changing reflects the fact that despite our Center being over 20 years old, a “one-stop nonprofit hub”  (our other descriptor) is still a vibrant, innovative concept.  The professional dictionary is catching up to the work done many years ago by Together Center founders who were one of the first in the nation to  gather multiple human service agencies under one roof (or three, as the case may be).

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the Nonprofit Shared Space and Services Conference in Denver on our rebranding process a couple years ago. One of the pleasures of this invitation was hearing cascades of approval of our name, logo and other features.  It was great to get a national view. As I posted on Facebook:  “You like us. You really like us!”

Among the many presentations I attended, one included academic research on the benefits and results of “shared spaces.”   Diane Kaplan Vinokur of the University of Michigan confirmed that small agencies pay significantly less by leasing shared space than they do leasing elsewhere.   Janet Boguslaw of Brandeis University noted, “Nonprofit centers offer a structural framework that moves organizations beyond their traditional silos to enable systems-level impact.”

Systems-level impact was the theme for many speakers.  Shared spaces are not simply a benefit to nonprofits. They are a means for communities to transform themselves.  Last year Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock signed Executive Order 138 to give strong endorsement for all city agencies to consider shared spaces as a tool to support nonprofits and further economic development.

I visited several high-impact hubs that benefit the environment, the arts and nonprofit capacities. I came home full of ideas to steal and reenergized to work toward the replication of an effective model for bettering our communities in multiple ways.