Spacey, An Inventory of Nonprofit Space Solutions

A Man Holding Building PlansSpaced out? Bursting at the seams? Need a place to expand? Nonprofit leaders frequently need more space, and it’s a pricy need. Yet, for most nonprofits, real estate is the second-largest expense on the balance sheet. This article offers a collection of fifteen solutions for your space needs.

Unusual Space Solutions

Reframe your Space Needs. Some organizations find that they can solve their space needs by looking at their need and identifying creative solutions. Can you flex, bend, and explore your space needs to identify creative solutions? See the next three ideas for examples.

1. Serve Existing Customers Elsewhere. This solution solves your space needs by re-working how and where you do business. For example, many colleges have grown their enrollments without adding additional dorm space by encouraging study abroad programs. How might you serve your current customers differently? Where do your customers congregate? Can you go to them? What about a space nearby?

2. Re-Configure. This solution involves looking at your space needs, dividing them into parts, and re-organizing them. For example, a San Francisco Theatre Company asked its patrons to donate space in garages or other locations for props and costumes. Can supplies be moved to a different location so you can use existing space for people? After opening the McClure Center, Manatee United Way found that many nonprofits planned to house preferred space in their original offices on a bus route. To accommodate them, United Way Manatee moved their staff to the new site.

3. Share Office Space. If you have a staff that works more than one shift, consider having staff share office spaces. This solution works nicely with telecommuting, i.e., one staff member works Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in the office; a second Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Meetings are held throughout the day on Fridays. What would happen if you adjusted hours and invested in desks that “close up” like Murphy beds instead of building new office space?

Joint Spaces Solutions

This subset of solutions involves working with other nonprofits to find space solutions.

4. Multi-Tenant Centers. These sites “. . . house multiple organizations and provide healthy, efficient, quality, mission-enhancing workspace.” To find a list of U.S. centers and information about how to create one, see this site supported by the Tides Foundation. The Glasser Schoenbaum Human Services Center in Sarasota is one example.

5. One-Stop Services. While multi-tenant centers house different nonprofits that serve many needs, one-stops house a collection of nonprofits that serve a specific customer group. Customers benefit because of the ease of accessing different services at one location. Often staff from different agencies enjoy working together to solve customer challenges. Two common customers for one-stops are job seekers and the homeless. Bradenton’s One-Stop Resource Center helps the homeless move from poverty to self-sufficiency. It houses nearly a dozen agencies. Read more about this Community One-Stop here.

6. Sublease. Solve your space need by finding another nonprofit with excess space and sublease it. For example, in New York City, Atlantic Philanthropies subleased 26,000 square feet to the New York Blood Center. Do you know another nonprofit with excess space due to reduced programming?

7. Time Share. This solution can also involve a sublease. In time-sharing, you share space with another nonprofit because you provide services in complimentary time frames. For example, an aftercare care program shares space with a charter school. Or, you rent a parking lot during the week from a congregation. To explore this solution, find out who has space but doesn’t use it when you need it.

8. Incubators and Co-Location. Some nonprofits solve their space needs by moving into nonprofit incubators or leased spaces offered by foundations, governments, and nonprofit service agencies. In addition to space, these sites often offer support services. The United Way of Manatee built the McClure Center in a growing area east of Bradenton to provide office space to nonprofits.

Short-Term Solutions

Sometimes your solution will work for just a short period. This is especially true when your space needs are inconsistent. You may need space only during the high season. Or, you may wish to delay finding a permanent solution until you can afford it or after you confirm a service need at a specific location.

9. Per-Use Space. If your space need is temporary, solve it by borrowing or renting pay-per-use spaces at banks, art galleries, foundations, community centers, etc. Many nonprofits use space like these for board meetings and retreats. Space may also be available for temporary offices. For instance, the New York Foundation lists 32 meeting spaces on its resources page.

10. Vacant space. This solution involves renting commercial real estate at a reduced rate with the understanding that the arrangement is temporary. When Crestwood Court (formerly Crestwood Mall) faced vacant retail space due to the slow economy, they made space available to artists for a nominal fee. At Crestwood, artists and cultural groups perform, paint, dance, exhibit, hold classes, and sell their art. This brings traffic to the mall to support the remaining stores. Can you offer artistic or other benefits to a landlord or his or her tenants?

11. Create Space. Don’t overlook your own facilities for a solution. Instead of building, a congregation rents a tent for high-holiday services. Rather than adding hospital rooms, hospitals house women in hallways at the height of the baby boom. To handle the demand, the Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville, Florida, added a five o’clock Saturday night show in addition to the eight o’clock evening performance.

Technology Solution

Space solutions that use technology offer new possibilities every day. Can you solve your space challenge with technology?

12. Tele-commuting. Tele-commuting or otherwise conducting business from distant locations allows staff and volunteers to work offsite some or all of the time. In a Blue Avocado blog entry, Robin Erickson provides a discussion of how Save the Bay created a telecommuting system for its employees

Classic Solutions

13. Build. This solution involves adding onto or building a new building. The Cancer Support Community, formerly Wellness Community of Southwest Florida, just opened its new 10,000- square-foot green facility on a five-acre site with gardens and nature preserves. The building is often one of the first solutions that leaders consider when they encounter a space need—it is often the most expensive option.

14. Renovate. This answer involves taking existing space and finding ways to reuse it without adding square footage. Our contractor looked at the condition of our garage and said, “Many people find that they don’t need more garage space. They need to utilize the space they have better.” We didn’t build. Your current space may, if reconfigured, solve your space needs. To renovate, you may work with an interior designer or contractor. This may involve minor or major changes.

15. Lease. This resolution involves finding a space to rent in the community. Renting avoids the need to run a capital campaign. Renting also allows you to test out a location before making a permanent commitment. Many nonprofits rent as the regular way of doing business.

Spaced In

These fifteen solutions will help you to solve many of your nonprofit space challenges. Do you have other solutions to solve space dilemmas? Every day nonprofits creatively solve space needs. Please help us to grow this solution list. Share your ideas by email us, and we will include them here with credit to you. Help nonprofits like you move from spaced out to spaced in.

Five Space Resources

1. Creative commercial real estate specialists.

2. Community venues. Seek out lists that others have developed. Ask your reference librarian, chamber of commerce, nonprofit resource center, and local foundations.

3. Consider voting sites, wedding spots, and senior congregate dining sites for ideas.

4. Craigslist and other local sites that list real estate opportunities

5. Karen can help you develop practical and creative solutions for your space needs.

For more help with budget and income, see these articles:


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