CAN experience suggests providing shared office space for non-profits a good MRI strategy for funders


Alliance magazine


In the difficult times since the financial crisis struck, there has been much talk of non-profits collaborating, even merging – and suggestions that funders should be supporting them in this process. A press release (see below) from the UK-based CAN (formerly Community Action Network) suggests that sharing office space encourages collaboration, and even in one case merger.

Could developing and providing shared office space for non-profits be a good mission-related investment for foundations? Fund 1818 in the Netherlands is already doing it, as described by executive director Boudewijn de Blij in the ‘Investors’ Perspectives’ column in the March issue of Alliance.

Shared space breeds collaboration for charities

A pioneering concept in workspace development, created by award-winning social enterprise CAN Mezzanine, demonstrates the benefits of charities sharing office space.

Almost 70 per cent  of charities renting space in CAN Mezzanine’s three London sites are collaborating on projects or sharing resources, according to the latest customer survey  (released in March 2010). Around 90 per cent are interacting with each other in other ways and two  have formerly merged.

CAN Mezzanine provides high quality affordable office space to charities and social enterprises and houses some of the leading names in social change. Most of the space is intentionally open plan, encouraging collaboration and networking. CAN Mezzanine saves the Third Sector more than £2.2 million a year at its London Bridge location alone, according to independent social impact research, working out as average savings of more than £5,000 for every desk space rented.

Organisations living in the three sites are promoted through a secure intranet system where they can advertise their work, ask for ideas or find partners on projects – which makes interaction virtual as well as physical. With many charities reporting a drop in income and loss of business, this kind of collaboration makes good economic sense.

For example …

Three domestic violence charities – Greater London Domestic Violence Project (soon to change its name), Respect and Women’s Aid  – deliberately chose space in CAN Mezzanine because of the opportunities for shared working and synergy. Collaborations include working on joint responses to consultations, representing each other at meetings and responding to media calls.  “There is something about the physical co-location that makes a real difference. Although we worked together before, being in the same building saves us both money and time,” says Director Davina James-Hanman.

The Brightside Trust and the UNIAID Foundation, both education charities, have merged. They officially launched their new branding (BrightsideUNIAID) and website on 16 March. “The merger has allowed us to extend our work to tackle social barriers to education and training,” says Dr Tessa Stone, Chief Executive. “Both organisations had a similar approach. Together we can reach bigger audiences and provide a more comprehensive service.”

Kids in Museums, the Institute of Conservation and the Collections Trust – all organisations involved in museums, archives and collections – have collaborated on various projects. They also promote each other through their own websites. “The location, flexibility and open plan environment works well for us. Being in the same space means we hear about opportunities to support each other”, says Eleanor Lovegrove, Marketing and Membership Officer, Collections Trust.

Andrew Croft, Chief Executive of CAN, says:

“This is a prime example of how the right working environment can help charities and social enterprises to develop productive alliances.  When we developed the concept of CAN Mezzanine we saw the main benefits as cost savings, shared back office facilities and a congenial working environment with like-minded organisations. But this survey shows that it also can generate collaboration and innovation around social change. What we have created in effect are ‘communities of social interest’.”

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Tagged in: CAN Mezzanine Collaboration Mission-related investing MRI

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