When the Colorado Collaborative for Nonprofits (CCN) opened doors in 2012, we were an experiment. We were an experiment to see if 5 different nonprofits could coexist, and after coexisting, could we also thrive in ways unachievable to us individually?
CCN was the first co-working space directly supported by Denver Shared Spaces. The five original organizations (the Colorado Nonprofit Association, Community Shares of Colorado, the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center, the Community Resource Center, and Metro Volunteers) dreamed about creating a one-stop shop for nonprofits to find whatever resource they needed. We all shared capacity-building missions.
The initial advantages for us were obvious: reduced overhead costs, co-programming, shared resources, etc. Those were the “unachievable to us individually” goals, but first we had to learn to coexist. Each organization had a unique culture and way of doing business.
Through funding contributed by The Denver Foundation, we were able to hire a cultural anthropologist to assess each organization’s culture and identify opportunities for synergy. From there, we formed shared working committees vital to our coexisting such as Governance, Operations and Fun Wagon (Culture). Nevertheless, there were still growing pains. Staff turnover at one organization now affected all organizations. Shared printers, conference rooms, and kitchens meant we needed Collaborative-wide office policies. We also needed to allocate time towards Collaborative work, which is not simple given schedule and budget constraints.
We are by no means perfect, but we learned some vital lessons:
- Being a Collaborative means coming to work as a Collaborative. Our Fun Wagon committee plans our holiday parties, summer activities, and happy hours. These events are vital to our collective culture. We all need to know the names, stories, and skills of everyone on the floor so that communication is natural across organizations.
- Leadership for the Collaborative must be fostered on multiple levels. Every organization has a representative on each committee. The representatives rotate annually, but we made sure the CEOs weren’t just sitting on the committees directing all the work. We made it a leadership development opportunity for our staffs to hone skills in desired areas. Total buy-in.
- Setting Collaborative goals and assigning tasks is vital. As nonprofits, we individually set goals each year and assign people to tasks in achieving them. We needed to do the same in our committees. It allowed our staff to understand their Collaborative duties better and contribute with resources available from their individual nonprofits.
In 2015, we launched the Collaborative Training Center. Each of our nonprofits provides trainings and events, so we invested collectively in a state-of-the-art facility. It remained unused at times, so we opened the space to rent. We then formed a new committee with the primary goal of activating this space. The primary strategy identified to make use of this incredible facility was to begin hosting quarterly talks at called Colorado Collaborative Connections. Just like that, we created our first co-programming with revenue, a networking event for nonprofit professionals.
Our next Colorado Collaborative Connections on August 9th (4:30PM-6:30PM) will feature our good friends from Denver Shared Spaces, who will talk about how other nonprofits can take advantage of co-working spaces. DSS will also share insights about the broader real estate landscape in the region and how it could impact our sector. We’ve had over 250 participants come to these events, and our success has truly stemmed from our committee model and the lessons we’ve learned as a Collaborative. To register or learn more, please visit www.coloradocollaborative.org.