Shared spaces for non-profits are, by their nature, collaborative.  In Denver’s tight real estate market, a major benefit of organizations sharing space is, of course, splitting rent costs and other shareable resources.  But cost was not the most important benefit for non-profits to enter shared spaces when Denver Shared Spaces first got its start.

Denver Shared Spaces’ May 2010 market analysis report findings showed that “collaboration was consistently the highest identified factor around motivation to share space. In the First Level Nonprofit Survey, 82 percent of respondents indicated they were interested in both exploring opportunities for program partnerships and collaborations—in fact the highest percentage of respondents in the survey identified “benefit from service partnerships and collaboration with other programs” as the number one reason for being interested in shared space.”

So if one of the top reasons for non-profits to be interested in moving to a shared space with other non-profits is collaboration and idea sharing, how do you maximize benefits like a greater sense of belonging and community, connectedness and morale?  The same report showed that 74% of those surveyed were interested in participating in network and resource sharing, social evenings, and joint training sessions between organizations.  An idea to borrow from could be ERGs, or Employee Resource Groups.dss-sharegraphic-13

According to Catalyst, Employee Resource Groups are “voluntary, employee-led groups that serve as a resource for members and organizations by fostering a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives.”  ERGs have been around since the first was created in 1964 by Joseph Wilson, CEO of Xerox, to address racial tension. The first LGBTQ ERG was formed in the 1990’s at AT&T.  LGBTQ ERGs have influenced company policies to be more inclusive, created spaces where employees could find belonging, and created ways to give back to the community through fundraising and volunteering.  Today around 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs and in many cases have evolved them into Business Resource Groups (BRGs), contributing to their company’s diverse recruiting, retention, and marketing efforts.

Some of my favorite benefits of ERGs come from MIT’s Human Resources page and include: “creating an open forum for staff who share common interests/concerns to meet and support one another in creatively addressing those concerns, providing a resource to leadership regarding staff/community issues, needs and policies, and advancing a respectful and caring community.”  Those benefits could enhance shared space experiences between groups.  Look at your shared space members and see if you can identify or discover any shared purposes or goals they could rally around.  While sharing space can result in increased synergy and idea sharing across organizations, it can also cause friction between different work styles and group cultures. Having structures that function like an ERG that allow communication and creative problem solving between organizations could soothe tensions.

As a previous HR manager, I noticed that offering my staff opportunities for volunteering as a group, sharing celebrations, or working together to raise money for a cause brought us all a sense of belonging and purpose.  Using an ERG model and allowing members to set group direction and metrics could take some pressure off shared space management and other leaders to create a collaborative and positive environment.