OAKLAND — When former photographer and schoolteacher Anthony Handy started a literacy program for inner-city youngsters, he figured that renting office space would eat up $2,600 of his $25,000 first-year budget.
But, "we spent just $600 on rent in 1982," said Handy, director of The Educational Alliance and Channel for Help (TEACH). The $2,000 savings equaled the cost of giving eight youngsters six months of remedial tutoring in reading, writing and arithmetic, he said.
Instead of renting an entire office, TEACH stretched its budget by renting part-time use of a desk at A Central Place, one of the first in a growing number of shared office space arrangements around the nation for small nonprofit organizations.
Sharing space is a growing trend among public-benefit organizations trying to stretch their budgets and illustrates the expanding efforts to develop a nonprofit infrastructure that can strengthen and support private voluntary efforts.
Proponents say that cooperative space arrangements can foster synergy while serving a variety of purposes, including holding down costs, building networks among nonprofits and helping tiny charities grow.
In Four Cities Now
These arrangements exist in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Stockton and Oklahoma City, and others are being planned in cities across the country. In New York City, the first of what may be several office condominium projects for nonprofits is expected to begin soon, allowing participating agencies to beat skyrocketing rents, avoid property taxes and build up equity, which during lean times can be borrowed against to maintain operations.
In Los Angeles, the Southern California Center for Nonprofit Management shares space with four other nonprofits and two profit-making organizations in the 1052 Building on West Sixth Street. On the sixth floor of the Eastern-Columbia Building downtown, 28 arts organizations rent space at about 50% of commercial rates from a supportive landlord. United Way in Los Angeles also rents space, at full cost, to some nonprofit agencies, such as the Volunteer Center of Los Angeles, a United Way spokesman said.
Take Over a Firehouse
Next fall, the Los Angeles Theatre Alliance plans to provide space for three other arts organizations when it takes over an old firehouse on Figueroa Street downtown, Executive Director Michele Garza said. Several other nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles say they are studying the feasibility of such cooperative ventures.
"The important thing about this is sharing by people in organizations that have similar goals, similar problems," said Alan Sieroty, the former state senator who is vice president of Eastern-Columbia Inc. "To some extent they share mailing lists, information, know-how, can give each other encouragement and can even schedule performances with each other."
"We all have shared visions and can provide collaborative support," Patty Oertel, associate director of the Center for Nonprofit Management, said of the five nonprofits and two businesses that share 2,500 feet of space in the 1052 Building on 6th Street just west of downtown. "Its nice to have other knowledgeable people to bounce ideas off of, as well as to provide emotional support when things get tough."
Oertel said the organizations she works with share telephone-answering, a conference room and some secretarial services and all pay full costs. However, Oertel said the joint arrangement made it possible to rent a larger space, thus reducing per-square-foot costs for all seven organizations.
Shared Rental Space
A Central Place in Oakland, and a similar facility run by the Washington Council of Agencies in the District of Columbia, go beyond simple cooperation among charities in renting space jointly. A Central Place is a nonprofit agency whose purpose is providing and managing office space for smaller charities; the Washington Council of Agencies includes this purpose among its many functions.
The 300-member Washington Council of Agencies subleases downtown office space to 12 member agencies, which share a conference room, a large photocopier and reception, telephone answering and secretarial services.
Jim Kalish, the Washington council's executive director, said the participating charities also save money by hiring two nonprofit sheltered workshops--which provide employment for the emotionally troubled--to do mass mailings and to clean the building.
A Central Place rents 5,000 square feet in an old commercial building across from Oakland City Hall at less than actual costs, with corporate, foundation and government funding making up the difference. The airy and brightly lighted floor has high ceilings, with some walls painted bright blues and browns and others covered by bulletin boards alive with the posters and flyers of the causes that sublease space.