Social enterprise: “Charitable campus” creates new opportunities and synergies for Calgary nonprofits

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For-profit businesses share office buildings all the time — so why not nonprofits?

According to the Calgary Foundation, there is so much potential for innovation — and, consequently, the local community — when you share space with other like-minded charitable organizations.

A new kind of community

Located in downtown Calgary, the Kahanoff Centre is occupied by solely by nonprofits and charities, who work independently while benefiting from affordable rental rates.

The Calgary Foundation is the shareholder of the Kahanoff Centre for Charitable Activities (gifted in 2012 when the Kahanoff Foundation wound down its assets), and appoints the board of directors — a charity in and of itself — to the Centre.

To top it all off, the Calgary Foundation is also a tenant within this “charitable campus.”

Prior to moving into the Centre last year, the Foundation was in a regular office building seven blocks away.

“We decided to move here because the benefit is that we pay rent to a landlord that is a charitable entity, which benefits many charities by giving them really good office space below market rent,” says Eva Friesen, president and CEO of the Calgary Foundation.

The Kahanoff Centre consists of two connected towers with 12 floors. The first five floors are taken up by Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, a world-class professional jazz dance facility and charity; and the additional floors above are for 20-25 other charitable organizations. The centre also provides conference facilities to the broader community — providing another income-generating source for the building.

Designing spaces

Many new tenants have been able to construct and develop their own spaces with staff in mind — such as the Calgary Counselling Centre (CCC), which has close to 100 employees, students and post-grads.

“All of our walls are demountable, so other than the walls between offices, our entire place is all glass, bringing fabulous light into the space,” says CCC CEO Robbie Babins-Wagner. “Even if you don’t have a window office, the light comes through. Everyone who comes is always commenting on the amount of light we have. The great thing about being here is that we don’t really have to decide who gets a nice vs. a not-so-nice office — which is great for employee engagement.”

In designing its own office, the Calgary Foundation has even been able to help other social enterprises who aren’t even located there.

One of the Foundation’s purposes is to build capacity within the entire charitable sector. While preparing tenant improvements to their own space, they decided to hire a millwright.

“We have quite a lot of beautiful wood in the interior, which was all done by the Drop-In Centre wood shop,” says Eva. “We knew this charitable organization that has a wood shop, which trains people dealing with homelessness and addiction to learn carpentry skills. We commissioned them to do the work for all our floors, including the tables and all other wood work. And they did the most phenomenal interiors. They were so good that the scope of the work kept expanding. Even the contractor says they were so impressed with the work of the Drop-In Centre wood shop!”

Benefits of sharing space

While it’s only been about a year since moving in, the Calgary Foundation has experienced and seen many positive things occurring throughout the facility.

“We work with a lot of charities, and many of us have a mandate for capacity-building within the nonprofit sector — being so physically close to one another, it’s easier to work together to ensure the way we do capacity building aligns with one another, doesn’t overlap, and that gaps are being addressed. We can be most effective this way,” says Eva.

Additionally, says Taylor Barrie, director of communications, “We’re seeing a lot of natural conversations happening in the hallway and elevators. Charities are always bumping into each other in the building — and these ad hoc conversations are great for building synergies across organizations.”

Robbie Babins-Wagner of the Calgary Counselling Centre agrees.

“My staff are always saying that people are really happy here — that you walk onto the elevator and everybody talks to you,” she says. “You can have conversations and you tend to bump into people that you might want to set up meetings with. We’ve even been to little meet-and-greet parties that the Kahanoff Centre has put on, giving us an informal chance to meet each other — it’s just a nice way to be social. Basically, this building is full of opportunities for collaboration because you’re always surrounded by like-minded people.”

The experience has also been quite different than working in a “regular” office building.

“The Kahanoff Centre has brought us all together with an interest in how we can service the community — not only on an individual employee level, but on an organizational level, as well as part of a larger group of charities,” says Robbie.

Looking toward the future

The future is looking bright for the Kahanoff Centre.

While it’s not a certainty, there may eventually be opportunity for the building to have a drop-in incubator space, so nonprofit organizations just starting out can rent space, desks and computers in the short-term (rather than signing on as a tenant).

Moreover, the Calgary Foundation believes there is potential for sharing services across charities.

“It hasn’t been realized yet because this campus is still quite new, but there might be some good synergies across charities with similar IT needs,” says Eva. “This would be of great benefit to the organizations that aren’t big enough to afford their IT person. Figuring out how we can benefit from shared services is something that we are just starting to look at now. But we see great things happening in the future.”

This article originally appeared on the Community Foundations of Canada website and is reprinted with permission.

This nonprofit HR innovation story series is made possible thanks to a partnership between Community Foundations of Canada, and family foundation Ignite NPS. Together we are supporting Canada’s nonprofit sector by highlighting stories of HR innovation and promising practices taking place in community organizations across the country.

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