Why pay for empty desks? In most offices, most of the desks will be empty at any given time, but will still cost just as much. Shared office space offers a solution to that inefficiency. And though they are still a small part of the overall commercial real estate market, providers of flexible office space, such as Regus and IntelligentOffice at Carnegie Center and Ibis Express at Ibis Plaza, have proven their worth for small companies that need workspace on a small-scale or a short-term basis.
One person who worked in such an arrangement is Herbert Klein, executive director of the United Way of Greater Mercer County. Klein, who spent decades in the corporate world before moving to nonprofits, said that when he was a manager at consulting firm Acenture in the 1990s, he was on the road so much that a permanent office would have been a waste. Instead, he and two colleagues used rented shared office space for mailing and other desk-bound work.
The arrangement was so efficient that Klein was still thinking about it years later when he became the head of United Way, headquartered on Brunswick Pike in Lawrence. If it worked so well for companies, why couldn’t there be a shared office space for nonprofits?
“It’s been outrageously successful,” he said. “I’m quite amazed that nonprofits haven’t picked up on this.”
Klein realized the biggest obstacle to nonprofits moving into places like Regis was the cost structure, which is above what most groups can afford to pay for office space. Plus there is the business atmosphere, which might make some nonprofit staff uncomfortable. Four years ago Klein began working on a plan to start a shared office space for nonprofits, and this month that vision became reality.
CollaborationCore is located in the same Brunswick Pike building as the United Way headquarters, providing 19,500 square feet of office space, which is room enough for about 180 people to work at one time. Though there are offices available, the majority of that footage is open office space, in following with corporate office trends.
The office is holding a breakfast meeting on Friday, October 30, from 8 to 10 a.m. to show off the facilities at 3150 Brunswick Pike, Suite 300, in Lawrence. For more information on the free event, call 609-429-4177, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.collaborationcore.org.
“People walk in and say this is more like a Google setup or a high tech incubator,” Klein says. CollaborationCore even has a coffee bar and lounge furniture, features that are more commonly found at over-perked Silicon Valley offices than at area philanthropic and social services.
“Nonprofits tend to take what’s leftover,” Klein said. “They tend to take the bad office furniture, the old stuff, the hand-me-downs. I believe that nonprofits deserve to work in as nice an environment as for-profits. We wanted to create space that was not only more cost-effective, but was very forward thinking and modern and cool, where people would want to come and work.”
There are multiple levels of CollaborationCore membership available, starting at $50 a month for a nonresident membership with no fixed desk. That covers basics like Internet access and mail delivery. After that, users pay $50 every time they come in and actually use the space. Resident members can pay a flat rate per month for a desk, multiple desks, or an office, however much space they need, for terms as short as three months.
Membership is available only to nonprofits, but Klein isn’t worried about a lack of potential tenants. He said there are more than 4,000 registered nonprofit groups in Mercer County alone. He said he hopes different groups will gather, mix together, and share ideas in the space, hence the name CollaborationCore. That doesn’t happen much in other kinds of shared space, since businesses are often competitors, or in different sectors entirely. But Klein believes that because nonprofits share the common goal of working for the good of society, there will be more opportunities to work together.
Klein’s career has given him plenty of opportunities to compare how business is done in the private and nonprofit sectors. He was raised in upstate New York, where his father was an engineer and his mother was a registered nurse. He got some early help from the Louis August Jonas Foundation (LAJF), an organization dedicated to developing the talents of gifted students. After earning a degree in economics at the State University of New York at Albany, Klein went to work in the corporate world, working for Andersen, Accenture, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and AgilQuest. All the while, he was a donor to the LAJF, and in 2004 he left private business to become CEO of that group.
“At that time I had done three consecutive startups, and I had sold my interest in my last startup,” Klein recalls. “I was looking for something fun to do. I said probably the stupidest thing I ever said in my business career when presented with the opportunity to run a nonprofit, and that was, ‘It’s a nonprofit, how hard can it be?’ I’ve never worked harder in my life.”
In 2010 he joined United Way of Greater Mercer County as CEO and began to think seriously about starting a shared office space collaborative for nonprofits. When Gilbane Construction left its office at Crossroads Corporate Center, the building that houses the United Way headquarters, Klein saw an opportunity. He believes that saving on office space is an especially attractive goal for nonprofits, which are always seeking to reduce overhead. Because charity ranking websites like Charitynavigator and Guidestar rate nonprofit groups on how much of their budget goes to program costs versus administration, nonprofits are more mindful than ever about their bottom lines.
“The more efficient you are, the more attractive you will be from a donor’s perspective,” Klein said. “Using shared office space demonstrates not only that they’re good custodians of funds, but that they plan to further reduce those overhead costs even as they grow.”
Already, two groups have taken up residence at CollaborationCore. Klein hopes more will follow. And he wouldn’t be surprised if the nonprofit shared space idea caught on as well. “We are going to be early adapters,” he says. “It takes a little while for people to get used to new things.”