A few neighbors have donated storage space in their garages for their local church as it relocates to a smaller facility. For my neighbors, it’s a way for them to give without donating time or money, and for the organization, it’s a free place to store tables, chairs, and holiday ornaments. This is nothing new to not-for-profit organizations, but perhaps sharing can be taken to the next level. The key would be to have agreements in place that are mutually beneficial relationships and arm’s length transactions.
What about ways that not-for-profit organizations can share without stepping on each other’s toes? Two immediate ways that come to mind are administrative functions and physical space. A not-for-profit could share with a for-profit, with private individuals, or with other not-for-profits that, on the surface, seem very different. For example, a human rights advocacy organization and a 24-hour drug abuse crisis hotline can work together. Their program goals and tax-exempt purposes are different, but their means to those goals might include share office space, equipment and supplies, telephones, utilities, and janitorial services. Furthermore, when not-for-profits share space, it creates opportunities for collaboration of ideas and increased visibility.
Sharing doesn’t always involve working out of the same space. In the case of equipment-sharing, it may require working out logistical questions. For example, a community garden could share equipment with a landscaping company. While the landscaper shuts down over the weekend, the gardening group can use the landscaper’s shovels, clippers, and rakes for Saturday gardening.
The accounting concepts involved with shared services are easy as long as the sharing agreement is straight forward; for example - head count, hours of usage, and/or square footage used. It’s a concept worth thinking about.