Growing without Bricks and Mortar: New Models to Scale Your Impact

This post was originally shared on the blog of the Nonprofit Centers Network, of which Open Gov Hub is a member.

It previews a talk about growth strategies for nonprofit shared spaces/resource centers that Open Gov Hub’s Director Nada Zohdy co-presented during the NCN annual conference, Sharing Innovation.

To view the full presentation, see here (presentations starts at 5:40)

The number of commercial coworking spaces is rapidly growing across North America. These for-profit shared spaces achieve growth via a traditional and straightforward revenue model: acquire more space, serve more tenants. Yet how can and should nonprofit centers think differently about growth?

At the Sharing Innovation annual NCN gathering in just a few weeks, we are both excited to share how our organizations – Tides in San Francisco and Open Gov Hub in Washington, D.C. – are each scaling their impact in a unique way, without adding more real estate. We will share our top takeaways (like how to lead with your values and leverage intangible assets), and how you can help your own center grow creatively.

First, let’s start with the big elephant in the room: the meteoric rise of for-profit collaborative workspaces – an industry that is projected to grow 16% in the next five years.  In Washington, D.C. this year alone,  eight new commercial coworking companies have opened even though the field was already crowded with over 70 existing corporate shared spaces. WeWork, the leader in the sector, is now valued at $20 billion and promises members the opportunity to “become part of a greater ‘we’”.  And WeWork isn’t alone in selling community as a key service/benefit (accessible to members as soon as they hit the “purchase” button on their membership payment). Most commercial coworking spaces seem to emphasize this as a key part of their branding.

So, as operators of nonprofit centers, should we be worried about the extraordinary growth of the commercial equivalents of our shared spaces?

We believe the key to nonprofit centers’ sustainability and growth in a seemingly crowded market is actually to double-down on our core values.  When we are interested in serving more nonprofits, we can scale our impact by seeking values-aligned partnerships that allow us to further our vision of shared services for increased nonprofit effectiveness, including real estate with a social purpose, without necessarily laying another brick.

How are our organizations trying to do this?

 Tides is a philanthropic partner and nonprofit accelerator dedicated to building a world of shared prosperity and social justice.  Tides manages a robust community of non-profits and social enterprises in two collaborative workspaces: Tides Converge San Francisco first opened in 1996 and now houses 450 people across 75, mission-aligned organizations, while Tides’ second workspace in New York City is home to ten organizations.  In late 2015, Google.org approached Tides to help them develop a bustling community space in the first floor of a newly purchased building in downtown San Francisco.  The initial partnership resulted in a high-impact membership model and equitable community framework for the three event spaces and coworking area that would eventually be open to all Bay Area non-profit organizations.  In March 2018, Tides assumed all daily operations, including managing non-profit membership and coordinating events and coworking sessions. Now, the space is open thirteen hours a day every day of the week, accommodating hundreds of events and coworking sessions each month and providing high-quality event and workspace for 700+ Bay Area non-profits.

Meanwhile, at the Open Gov Hub in Washington, DC, we serve as a dynamic meeting place that brings together 40+ organizations, resources, and ideas to help promote more open governments and transparent, accountable, and civically-engaged societies around the world.  Although our members have always worked in 75+ countries worldwide, we as the Hub supported the establishment of our first international affiliate hub in Nepal in 2014, then added a second affiliate hub in Liberia in 2016 and the latest in Mali in 2018. We recently secured additional resources for this work, and are now poised to build upon these initial successes and foster a truly global network of affiliate, like-minded HubsThrough in-person “staff swaps” plus virtual exchanges between hubs across countries, we will work with our partners to help them establish, maintain, or grow shared spaces, which in turn act as engines fueling nonprofits/civil society organizations who working to address needs in their communities. And we will learn from them to improve our own work in the process.

In the end, the number of commercial coworking spaces may be on the rise, but how a nonprofit center grows its impact should reflect not only its niche work/area of expertise, but most importantly its underlying values. Tides is supporting tech companies to develop and manage spaces that are truly serving their local communities, and the Open Gov Hub is fostering true peer learning and collaborations across countries.

How can you leverage your center’s strengths and values to envision a new chapter of creative growth?


About Our Bloggers:

Lexi Paza and Nada Zohdy

Nada Zohdy Open Gov Hub Washington DC

As Director of the Open Gov Hub, Nada oversees all programs and operations of this $1M social enterprise in Washington, D.C., which supports nonprofits promoting government transparency, accountability and citizen engagement around the world. She leads the Open Gov Hub’s efforts to provide shared services (including coworking), and to facilitate innovation, learning and collaboration across the Hub’s member network of 40 organizations. In 2015 she received an MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she focused on linking democracy/governance with social entrepreneurship/innovation. She also performed research on innovative nonprofit collaborations, published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Previously, she worked for the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), where she created a program that supported a dozen local watchdog NGOs and think tanks in several Arab countries in the wake of the Arab Spring. She has also been a consultant with the World Bank and the Democracy Fund. Over the last decade, she has supported 50+ nonprofits in several capacities. These experiences fuel her passion for social impact and civic innovation, globally and locally. She studied International Relations and Arabic at Michigan State University and is a 2009 Truman Scholar.



Alexis Paza Tides Converge San Francisco, CA

Lexi is a fierce believer that the design and use of spaces are deeply linked to equity and has worked within the intersection of good design, the built environment, & the social fabric of communities for fifteen years. Currently on the real estate and operations team at Tides, Lexi leads placemaking and manages the collaborative infrastructure at Tides Converge San Francisco, a twelve building campus of 80 mission-aligned nonprofits and social enterprises. She also leads Tides’ collaborative workspace consulting, supporting partners who want to leverage their real estate for good. Recent partners have included Google.org, who opened the Google Community Space in May 2017 which now hosts hundreds of events and coworking sessions every month for over 700 Bay Area nonprofits. Her previous experience includes the Housing Industry Foundation, KaBOOM!, and Rebuilding Together Silicon Valley. Originally from western Maryland, Lexi has an MA in Social Service Administration with a concentration in Community Planning, Organizing & Development from the University of Chicago.

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