Sharing space leverages resources
Close proximity injects new energy, increases collaboration
There’s only one thing better than visiting the offices of a thriving community organization, and that is visiting two at the same address. Or three, or four. Sharing space is a concept that has been enjoying a surge in popularity as nonprofits look at ways to leverage their resources to cut expenses.
Splitting the costs of housing, utilities and even office staff can go a long way toward stretching precious dollars. That’s important, but the advantages of sharing space can be bigger than the budget, if organizers are intentional about how they go about it. Close proximity to like-minded groups can help inject new energy into projects and increase collaboration among groups.
I have never seen a building more alive
In northern California, the Yreka Community Resource Center building started life as a Montgomery Ward store, and today, the 19,000-square-foot space still bustles with activity. There is a not-for-profit martial arts dojo, a large classroom off the mezzanine for social services programs, a drop-in soup kitchen, a sprawling family space complete with games and TV, and enough open space on the ground floor to periodically put up the air-filled Bounce House, just for fun.
In all, Director Michelle O’Gorman counts more than 27 programs that operate out of the center, which last year provided 11,000 services to the community.
Half of the ground floor, some 3,000 square-feet, is occupied by the center’s thrift store. “That pays our mortgage, light and heat,” O’Gorman says. “That makes my life so much easier––all we have to worry about is finding money for programs and people.”
Part of that money comes from tenant Remi Vista Inc., a nonprofit group that provides youth and family services. Other tenants have included Girl Scouts of America and Southern Oregon Goodwill Industries.
Resource center leaders offered the space for lease after identifying their goals and studying the market. “The income is not the main reason why we’re renting it out,” O’Gorman explains. “I’m more of a landlord for the purpose of having that space used appropriately––we want multiple things going on.”
It’s a strategy that enjoys resounding success. “I have never seen a building more alive, “ O’Gorman says. “We have 40 people a day in and out, not even counting the thrift store traffic.”
Still, she carefully studied what other downtown landlords were charging, and chose a price right in the middle. A formal lease agreement spells out each party’s responsibilities, and, in order to protect the group’s property-tax exemptions, only nonprofits are allowed to lease.
But the most important requirement, O’Gorman says, is to ensure that the groups that share space are compatible. “We wanted to rent to Remi Vista because our missions matched,” she explains. “Their clients are sometimes our clients—it’s just perfect.”
At Coos County’s Dora Center, space is shared by a fire department, public library, quilting group, service group and a church. “There are activities seven days of the week,” says Rich Kirk, board chairman of the Dora-Sitkum Rural Fire Protection District.
The Dora Center project, which was completed last year, involved building a new fire hall and multipurpose room and extensively remodeling an existing structure.
When it comes to expenses, the fire district, which operates the center, is transitioning from a landlord-tenant situation to a we’re-all-in-this-together model. All of the user groups are represented on a committee, which organizes fund-raisers to pay the bills; volunteers do all the cleaning. “These methods give everyone a feeling of ownership,” Kirk says.
In Klamath County, the Chiloquin Community Center also has a publicly funded library at its core, but it’s home to several other groups. Chiloquin Visions in Progress, an umbrella nonprofit organization, operates the 10,000-square-foot center, which was completed in 2004.
Library, gallery, sheriff
One third of the building is devoted to the library, and an art gallery and studio occupies another third. The remaining space serves a variety of groups, including the Klamath County Sheriff’s Department, the Klamath Crisis Center and the Klamath Youth Program.
Longtime volunteer Chuck Wells says one of the keys to the center’s success at sharing space is by sharing administrative resources. Each of the direct projects has a representative on the nonprofit’s board of directors. “It’s a real cooperative way of sharing administrative resources,” he says.