I have been developing a concept to establish ‘charity villages’ to reduce costs, improve interoperability and establish a social enterprise to deliver shared services.
The Issue
Charities/not-for-profits are paying high rents for office space, particularly in London and the south east.  Basing themselves in such locations also increases the already high cost of living for low-paid third sector workers and volunteers, including residential costs and commuting costs.  Yet 68% of people think London-based offices are ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ wasteful (SOURCE: nfpSynergy’s 2015).  Sustaining this could be considered an inappropriate use of donors' funds and resources to support organisations in London that do not need to be there.  The same survey showed 33% of people saw  not having offices in London as an indication of a charity’s frugality. The idea that all staff of all charities need to be in London for ‘lobbying’ is dubious.  Does the ‘prestige’ of being in London really count for so much or would donors in fact perceive charities to be more responsible if they spent their administration money more prudently? Charities/NFPs are facing increasing scrutiny of their governance, efficiency, effectiveness, value for money and collaboration so is it time to review options?
The Concept
I have been working on a concept of a network of decentralised hubs away from London to serve the third sector across the UK that would enable more efficient and effective working, release funds, and encourage collaboration and mutual support.  Social Enterprises would ensure optimal use and minimal costs, providing:
  • Shared support services including print and graphics.
  • Facilities management such as maintenance, catering, cleaning, security, meeting rooms, reception and secretarial support.
  • Marketing and social media.
  • Accountancy services.
  • Fundraising services.
  • Consultancy.
The Opportunities
Digitisation and online working offer greater flexibility and information sharing opportunities.  Modern working practices, such as jobshares and home working, enable more flexible workspace management and routines including shared spaces and hot desking.  Adopting these practises should offer better cost management and value for money.  The support of social enterprises could provide exemplary practical solutions and leadership by example.  The formation of hubs could exploit economies of scale and encourage cooperation and mutual support.
The Challenges
Of course there will be challenges.  Changes in culture would be critical, such as a move away from a London-centric system to something more flexible.  Fear of change is always the biggest hurdle.  Practicalities would also need to be addressed, such as release from existing tenancies and transition to new locations.  Support with project management to handle relocations and implementation of new protocols might also need to be addressed.  The success of alternatives would depend on suitable locations and access to them.
What challenges and opportunities could this concept help you to address in your own organisation?
What are the hurdles that you would need to get over to adopt this sort of operating model?
What would such a ‘village’ need to look like and provide for you to consider relocation to one?
I welcome your thoughts.