The number of multi-tenant nonprofit centers has grown exponentially in the past decade.
The Nonprofit Centers Network (NCN), a San Francisco-based organization that supports nonprofit centers, has a list of approximately 125 multi-tenant nonprofit centers across the United States and Canada. According to the organization, however, there are probably another 100 to 150 more centers that have yet to list with it.
Early versions of today’s multi-tenant nonprofit centers have existed since the mid-19th century, but the surge in nonprofit center development is due to:
- The growing recognition by nonprofit organizations of the value of cross-organizational collaboration and community building within the sector
- The need for quality workspace
- The need to contain rising commercial rents and increasing financial challenges for nonprofits
- While nonprofit centers have developed across the United States, their growth has been especially prolific in places like California, Washington state, Texas, New York City and Washington DC. Although Boston possesses a large number of nonprofits, the NonProfit Center concept is still unique to the city. The NonProfit Center of Boston is the first mission-based, multi-tenant center in Massachusetts created exclusively to house progressive social change organizations.
Ingredients of a Multi-tenant Nonprofit Center
Nonprofit centers come in all shapes and sizes and serve many different kinds of nonprofit organizations. All centers, however, share three basic features:
- They are composed of multiple (two or more), primarily nonprofit, tenant organizations; and
- They exist as a physical site (one or more buildings).
The purpose of the center is:
- To provide secure, affordable rents that are stable and predictable
- To provide an environment that fosters nonprofit collaboration
- To provide greater visibility for the social change work of nonprofits
- To provide the opportunity to work collectively with other like-minded groups
What Is Unique about Multi-Tenant Nonprofit Centers
In contrast to buildings where low rents have led to a cluster of nonprofit organizations, nonprofit centers consciously embrace and implement strategies aimed at building a community of nonprofits. Centers do this by:
Promoting organizational teamwork by making it easier to build relationships and develop joint community initiatives
According to a survey by the NCN of 39 multi-tenant nonprofit centers, approximately 30% of centers require that tenants collaborate with each other as a condition in their lease terms. For example, Boston’s NonProfit Center provides programs every month to encourage collaboration between tenants. Programs include two to three workshops per month and one open to anyone, not just tenants. Training sessions are offered to tenants as well as a tenant roundtable discussion.
A common theme in nonprofit centers is their environmental consciousness. In the NCN survey of 39 multi-tenant nonprofit centers, they found that seven have renovated historical buildings and five have adapted “green” building practices. The Boston NonProfit Center is one of two centers that have been awarded certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Commercial Interiors Program. This voluntary standard is granted by the U.S. Green Building Council to recognize buildings that incorporate innovative environmental design and construction practices. Many of the other centers have green practices to varying degrees. The Community Service Building in Wilmington, Del. has an energy-efficiency program and The Cleveland Environmental Center in Ohio has a green roof.
Nonprofit centers are located in central convenient locations that encourage tenants to use alternate forms of transportation. The NonProfit Center of Boston is located near South Station allowing public transportation options for tenants.
Sustainable design and long-term security for tenants are common principles of nonprofit centers. Centers display this by providing cheaper rent for tenants. In the NCN survey of 39 multi-tenant nonprofit centers they found that half of the centers had policies to keep rents lower than market. Rents were lower by 33% on average, but can be as much as 75% lower.
Nonprofit centers offer services not typically included in commercial rent, such as free meeting space, high-speed Internet and parking. Nonprofit centers also offer large meeting space – seating 50 people or more – free or at minimal cost to non-tenant organizations. The Boston NonProfit Center is one of the largest nonprofit centers in the United States, offering over 100,000 square feet of office space and over 4,000 square feet of meeting rooms that are accessible to the entire nonprofit community.