NFPs Make Not-so-strange Bedfellows
13 August 2015 at 11:17 am
Not for Profits have long been warned that without adopting new strategies the sector is at risk of becoming financially unsustainable – and one of those new strategies on the horizon is co-location. Ellie Cooper investigates.
“I do have a question about whether the size of the sector is sustainable,” World Vision Australia CEO, Tim Costello, previously told Pro Bono Australia News.
“We do have so many charities competing for the charitable dollar who could be working together and sharing back offices and maybe even merging.”
While the thought of merging might make some NFPs break out in a cold sweat, co-location has been identified as a less drastic measure that will still allow organisations to tighten their purse strings.
It’s a burgeoning concept in Australia, and international organisations like Ethical Property are moving into the market to pair up socially aligned organisations with the right workspace.
“The way we set up our buildings is really based around the premise that organisations don’t use all of the space that they have to rent if they’re on their own in a building,” CEO of Ethical Property Australia, Peter Allen said.
“Typically an office might have to have a kitchen, a toilet and a meeting room and they don’t use all of those things all the time. So one of the main benefits of co-locating that we’ve found is by sharing those areas that are only used occasionally, Not for Profits and other impact organisations can reduce cost.”
Allen said, aside from the obvious difference co-location makes to a NFP’s bottom-line, the real benefit lies in the opportunity to collaborate with other organisations.
“You bump into them in those areas and you find that you’re working on similar things or one has a skill that another organisation can use, and there’s all these benefits of being in a centre of like-minded organisations,” he said
Co-location often works best when a property has its own “profile” or acts as a hub for organisations with a shared objective.
“It might be a centre for human rights or social justice organisations, or there might be a group of people working on environmental issues, and then there could be a series of talks or workshops or learning events throughout the year focussed on those issues,” Allen said.
“This starts to raise the profile of whatever it is groups are working on much more easily than it would if they were simply in an office on their own in an anonymous building somewhere.”
Donkey Wheel House, in Melbourne’s CBD, set up by Donkey Wheel Charitable Trust, is Ethical Property Australia’s first managed project, and has brought together Streat, HUB Melbourne, The Difference Incubator, Kinfolk Cafe, Children’s Ground, Benefit Capital and School of Life.
“There’s been some really good examples of some of those organisations working together on projects,” Allen said.
“Kinfolk have recently organised an event with Streat around homelessness, and with Urban Seed who are based up the road.”
But a major city it can be hard enough to find real estate for one organisation, let alone for a whole group. Ethical Property has to raise social impact investment, purchase and refurbish their properties before anyone can move in.
“It can be challenging to bring all the different entities together at the same time, so you’re bringing together a group of organisations, you’re also finding a building, and you’re also finding investors to purchase the building,” Allen said.
“We always find that if you have one or two anchor tenants that are really committed to work with us to try to find other organisations and bring them in, then that really helps.
“We have a set of criteria for who can move into our buildings so we don’t just take anybody.
“Once word gets around and particularly once you’ve got a building in mind then all sorts of people start to hear about it and it draws other people to it.”
Ethical Property is currently in the final stages of setting up their Footscray centre, 5 kilometers west of Melbourne. Engineers Without Borders is their anchor tenant and they are hoping to fill the space with organisations focussed on education, international development, social justice, tech and innovation.
The company began in the UK in 1998 and they have set up 22 buildings across the continent. Allen said the trend is only just spreading to Australia but they are hoping it will take off.
“I don’t think it’s becoming that big yet in Australia but we’ve seen it in Europe growing and growing,” he said.
“It’s becoming a bigger thing, we’re hoping to demonstrate the benefit from it through Donkey Wheel House and the centre in Footscray and do more because we know there’s demand.
“It’s just a question of bringing together the right organisations with enough critical mass to then say we can now go and find a building.”