Over the course of more than 20 years, various groups and individuals thought it would benefit the local community to have a place where many nonprofit organizations could be housed under one roof. In the spring of 2017, this vision became reality with the opening of the NonProfit Collaborative of Howard County (NPC). By August, the center was fully leased, with 16 tenants sharing meeting space, a break room and a common goal of bringing services together to enhance lives.

It didn’t take long for people to learn about nonprofits that they hadn’t been familiar with, and for the nonprofits to discover that there were unexpected opportunities for collaboration to benefit their clients. Executive directors and staff members of organizations who had been working out of their homes, Wegmans and similar spaces found that suddenly they had a peer network close at hand for brainstorming and support.

A Social Network

In addition to finding the connections between organizations, the NPC also wanted to foster fellowship on a more individual level by giving staff members chances to chat with people from other organizations to learn about what they do at work, their interests and hobbies outside the office, and of course, which sports teams they root for. One of the places where this happens is in the break room, which is centrally located in the building and accessible to all staff.
Thanks to the efforts of NPC’s tenant council — a group with representatives from each of NPC’s 16 nonprofits — a number of staff social events, held at various times of the day to accommodate various work schedules, have been offered. The first months at the NPC included a breakfast meet-and-greet, an ice cream social, an after-work happy hour, a multicultural holiday luncheon and sweet treats for Valentine’s Day. These informal personal connections have carried over to client services, making it easier for staff members of the various nonprofits to collaborate and do warm handoffs to meet the full range of client needs.

Expanding the Reach

In a few months, the Department of Social Services, the Howard County Department of Community Resources and Services, the Howard County Department of Housing and Community Development, the Howard County Office of Human Rights and the Community Action Council of Howard County will be moving into adjacent buildings to create the Howard County Community Resources Campus. NPC already has begun working with its soon-to-be neighbors to explore ways to form connections that will benefit all of the organizations, as well as the populations that they serve.

It is also important that the center be a space that supports not just organizations at the NPC and the campus, but the broader Howard County nonprofit community as well. To foster these relationships, nonprofit groups are offered opportunities to share the NPC space by renting meeting rooms, a fully furnished “hot desk” office and mailboxes.

The meeting spaces can accommodate groups of up to 100 people and have built-in technology to facilitate presentations. The hot desk office gives nascent nonprofits a place to meet with clients and potential funders and to collaborate with NPC tenants. Those organizations renting mailboxes benefit from having a street address and not just a P.O. box, which can be advantageous when applying for grants. They also have opportunities to network with NPC’s organizations when they stop in to pick up mail.

As the end of NPC’s first year approaches, its member organizations look forward to continuing to grow as a nonprofit community and to find new ways to increase connections and impact within the campus and throughout Howard County.

Cheri Auger is with the Association of Community Services, and is manager of the NonProfit Collaborative. She can be reached at 443-518-7704 or [email protected].