What Specific Benefits Should Our Metro Region Seek?

As we worked to create a regional framework for Social Purpose Real Estate and non-profit colocation in St Louis we looked to the considerable experience of the 400+ non-profit centers in the U.S. and Canada that have preceded us. Our review of this experience suggests that we could gain six specific benefits (Table 1) from creating non-profit centers.

  1. Co-locating non-profits can enhance access to services by integrating services and putting them together in one shared location. The measurable outcomes might be increased use of services, easier access for constituents, and the establishment of a continuum of care.
  2. Co-locating non-profits can lower costs by sharing “back of house” supports such as accounting, human resources, and risk management. Further, reduced turnover and the benefit from being near other organizational directors and program administrators could contribute to the bottom line. The measurable outcomes could be increased operational strength and efficiency, lower costs, and better managed organizations. These benefits may be particularly valued by smaller non-profit organizations or by newer ones seeking to establish effective systems.
  3. Achieve a population-level outcome. This benefit is harder to measure and assure but the goal is to have a diverse group of actors implement a more comprehensive set of strategies to achieve a larger outcome than can be achieved alone. For example, this is the rationale behind the Chicago Literacy Alliance’s Literacenter” – the country’s first shared workspace devoted to literacy. Policy advocates, service providers, and marketing professionals from multiple agencies are located in one facility and could form cross-organizational teams to coordinate and implement complex strategies.
  4. Enhanced implementation of a shared business model. Co-locating non-profits hope to implement revenue generating activities with key partners. The measurable outcomes from this can include enhanced market access, increased revenue, and potential joint offerings to customers. This is an infrequent rationale for non-profit co-location. When it is the reason, it is used most often by non-profits who operate in a “business to business” market such as those that replicate evidence-based programs through partner non-profit agencies across the country.
  5. As has been demonstrated in the business sector, an innovation ecology can be nurtured through colocation when combined with other strategies. For non-profit organizations a social innovation ecology is desired, and this requires proximity, density, and organizational supports like those outlined above.

The final benefit does not accrue to the non-profit or even directly to those the organization serves. Rather, the final benefit is to the surrounding community in the form of economic development, historic preservation, strengthened neighborhoods, and improved living environments. In St Louis, the social sector makes up nearly 10% of the workforce. Further, millions of dollars are spent by the social sector on rent and real estate. Why not be more intentional in how we harness these financial resources to promote equitable community development?

Some Benefits of Non-Profit Co-location

Primary Rationale             Measurable Benefits Co-Locating Agencies Must Therefore:
1.      Improve Services
  • Increased use of services;
  • Easier access for               constituents; or
  • Establish a continuum of care.
  1. Share the same service population or demographic;
  2. Offer complimentary services;
  3. Choose locations that are proximate to their service population and sources of transportation;
  4. Rent, build, or renovate buildings to enhance public access and to align with service needs (such as accommodating children or  protecting the anonymity of the victims of domestic violence).
2. Better Management
  • Gain operational efficiency;
  • Reduce turnover;
  • Lower costs; and
  • Build capacity.
  1. Share a need for operational support or the ability to provide such support.
  2. Choose locations near current and potential tenant’s clients or that enhance customer access.
  3. Rent, build, or renovate buildings that offer a variety of space configurations capable of meeting current and future tenant requirements.
3. Shared Outcomes
  • Align policy, program,   media, advocacy, and other interventions; and
  • Improve a population-level outcome.
  1. Share the same desired outcomes.
  2. Bring complimentary strategies to achieve shared goals.
  3. Choose locations that enhance the visibility of the group.
  4. Rent, build, or renovate buildings to enable collaboration between partners and provide flexible space as work-teams change over the life of the initiative.
4. Earn Revenue
  • Reduce costs;
  • Maximize revenue; and
  • Increase quality.
  1. Have a shared business model to which each can add value and gain revenue.
  2. Bring complementary business strengths needed to implement the model (such as call center support, training systems, or data              management).
  3. Choose locations near target customers or that can enhance   customer access.
  4. Rent, build, or renovate buildings to enable the implementation of revenue generating activities.
5. Stimulate Innovation
  • Amount and nature of    innovations; and
  • Joint ventures and shared enterprises.
  1. Seek innovation in their configuration, programs, and customer experiences.
  2. Rent, build, or renovate buildings that promote connections and shared exploration such as co-working environments.
6. Neighborhood Development
  • Community development;
  • Neighborhood                     revitalization; and
  • Historic preservation.
  1. Share a desire to improve neighborhood life and conditions.
  2. Bring services and business in line with resident interests, needs, and goals.
  3. Choose locations that can contribute to neighborhood              revitalization.
  4. Rent, build, or renovate buildings to maximize positive economic and social impact.


Paul Evensen spoke at Sharing Innovation and is presenting a 3 part series of entries on his presentation topic: How Many Non-Profit Centers Do You Really Need? This is the second entry in the series.

What Values Should Guide Our Metro Region?


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