Nonprofits need to hang out together more often

I was really intrigued by a story in the November 1 edition of the Providence Business News. A local web development business named BatchBlue decided to share its extra office space once a week for free with other small shop folks. The gathering, dubbed BatchHaus, is pretty informal. (It was a delight to spot my neighbor with laptop sitting on a couch in the photo that accompanied the story).

The PBN article quotes the visitors to BatchHaus, many of whom work alone, expressing their appreciation for the opportunity to meet similar techies and make connections. Some of those connections have led to business leads, but overall, the camaraderie helps to create a stronger tech community, which is important to these new entrepreneurs. I was intrigued by the idea.

Then, the very next day, I was at a meeting with colleagues. I reported on the progress of multi-stakeholder learning teams I was using to do the environment scan for a strategic plan for a colleague. (for a future blog).

The colleague I had recruited to facilitate one of the learning teams mentioned that a number of the stakeholders had never visited each others’ facilities, even though they often referred clients to each other. So site visits were put on the agenda.

There are many encouraging reports of the wonderful benefits to co-locating nonprofits. But you don’t have to jump all the way to permanent rental arrangements. Like the BatchHaus folks, hanging out together can be good for your organizational health.

A past employer of mine, Save The Bay, built a fabulous new facility a few years ago right on our urban waterfront, a place that most Rhode Islanders hadn’t visited and thought of as an industrial wasteland. Save The Bay rents their board and conference space to any community nonprofit to use for trainings, retreats and other activities (for a small fee).

The BayCenter is incredibly popular for its amazing view of Narragansett Bay and great training facility. (I was preparing for a training there one winter morning and was rewarded with the acrobatics of a rambunctious harbor seal).

Not only environmental groups use the space. I’ve facilitated or participated in workshops with disability rights activists to the local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. All who attend meetings there are amazed that the waterfront could be so gorgeous — a real win for Save The Bay which has not given up on restoring any part of the Bay, even its most impaired urban waterfront.

The buzz is all around about the need for more collaboration and joint ventures in our sector. But most successful collaborations require trust and good faith in addition to mutual benefit. Collaborations don’t jump all the way to trust, they build up to it. What better way to get to know each other than by coming together in unstructured, no pressure places to share ideas, see new things, make connections and maybe get some feedback from a colleague.

It’s time for more organizations to open their doors and treat their colleagues as friends they’d like to know better, rather than competitors. I’m convinced there are great opportunities in the making.

So how about inviting new people to your office to hang out with you for a while.

9 responses to Nonprofits need to hang out together more often

  1. Lori L. Jacobwith

    Sharing resources that are easy to share is a great strategy for businesses, especially nonprofits. There are a number of similar collaborations in Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN…one that I’m especially fond of is Springboard for the Arts.

    They not only share office space but also provide computer terminals, arts publications, low-cost printing and faxing, and internet access. AND they provide access to health care, trainings and an art gallery for emerging artists to display their work. It’s an amazing truly helpful collaborative resource that supports hundreds of artists.

  2. kkb

    It’s time for more organizations to open their doors and treat their colleagues as friends they’d like to know better, rather than competitors. < YES YES!

  3. Roger Carr

    In the book “Forces for Good” networking/collaboration was one of the unique traits identified of high impact nonprofit organizations. These examples of collated organizations show one way to start building this trait.

  4. Gayle Gifford Post Author

    Thank you so much to Debra Beck of the Laramie Learning Project for her post this morning of Steven Johnson’s clever video on innovation “Where good ideas come from.”

    This gem underscores the point of my musing… innovation comes from more colliding of ideas, begging more connectivity.

    Check out Debra’s blog.

  5. Alexandra Peters

    It’s fascinating, isn’t it, the way nonprofits don’t often connect with each other? Is this because of competition, a feeling of scarcity? I keep hearing this suggested, but I don’t think so. I think it’s more likely just that each one has to work so hard to keep afloat, and probably also that there isn’t much of a mechanism for them to connect.

    I think the backoffice sharing that Lori mentions is a great idea, but I wish there were more opportunities for nonprofits to get to know each other. Thanks for reminding me of how important this is, Gayle!

    • Gayle Gifford Post Author

      I agree with you that the pressing needs of daily life conflict with the need to just get away to think and talk with colleagues. We are expected to be completely task oriented, now more than ever. So when staff does get to break away, it usually is to an equally structured conference or workshop. While attendees always say they’d like more time to meet people, if you put lots of time for informal gatherings into the conference many attendees use that time to catch up with phone calls or emails from work!

      I especially agree that we just don’t have enough spaces to gather. But we do have lots of space. I envision larger organizations opening their doors on a regular basis — it is amazing that in my small state, one group of like-issued organizations had never come together to talk until just a few years ago. And even then, the gathering was driven by funders who were expecting more collaboration.

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