The Common Roof is a community-based social enterprise providing sustainable and professional work and program space for human-service nonprofit organizations. This social enterprise is a multi-tenant nonprofit centre that provides quality, affordable space for human service organizations in Simcoe County. More than 10,000 clients annually receive help from the organizations at The Common Roof, which provides a convenient, single point of service with the added benefit of an enhanced multi-disciplinary base of expertise.
The Common Roof is located in Southern Ontario, Canada. They serve children, youth, young families, and some adults living in Simcoe County. Simcoe County has approximately 445,000 residents with 16 municipalities. The county is split into regions known as South Simcoe and North Simcoe.
Characteristics of Simcoe County include a mixture of dense and rural communities, agricultural to industrial businesses, a high proportion of commuters, the need for social housing, and a diversity of jobs. Main commuter regions include Barrie and Toronto.
A major characteristic that influenced the start of the Common Roof was the high rent mark-up that exists in the county. Rent for non-profit organizations is one of the largest ticket items in their budgets. Thus, organizations are forced to spend large amounts of money on rent which then reduces the budget line for client services. It is also often difficult for non-profit organizations to find business locations that fit their social and economic needs while keeping client factors in mind too. Plans started to develop about how non-profit organizations could save money through different business models in the community which lead to the development of the shared space model for the Common Roof.
The Common Roof provides assistance to non-profit organizations by helping them manage their administrative or program space and reduce their rent costs through the shared space option. They received a lot of support from members of the community in order to see out this new shared space model. Neville says he hears excellent feedback about their work on a regular basis. People are curious about how the model started, how it continues to operate effectively, and what the future will look like for the model.
The Common Roof in Barrie opened in the fall of 2006, while The Common Roof in Orillia did not open until the fall of 2011.
Most of this case study will focus on the shared space in Barrie as it has a longer history. New Path Foundation was established in 2000, previously known as the Thompson Centre Community Foundation.
In 2000, four organizations (the Robert Thompson Youth and Family Centre, the Richmond Youth and Family Centre, the South Georgian Bay Counseling Services, and the children’s mental health programs of Catulpa Tamarac Child and Family Services) came together to figure out how they could be more efficient. Over 120 years of human service experience was brought together with this amalgamation on April 1, 2000. New Path Foundation is the amalgamation of four children’s service providers in Simcoe County who creates and manages funds to meet the needs of their demographic.
The Common Roof is very much like New Path Foundation. In 2003, a number of not-for-profit organizations in Simcoe County voiced their frustrations about the environment and work conditions they were experiencing at the time. Frustrations included concerns about safety hazards, building maintenance, out-dated equipment, and more. These organizations believed that there were housing models available that would better manage their resources and ultimately improve their investments.
Ideas for the social enterprise started to develop in 2003 and plans started to come together in 2004. By the end of 2004, potential buildings were located, mortgage quotes were collected, and the building was purchased. Renovations took approximately 1.5 years to complete following the purchase of the building. The organization then opened its doors for the first time in 2006.
Glen Newby, the Chief Executive Officer, of New Path Foundation chaired the leadership of the Common Roof development. He spearheaded the project along with his senior staff. The five tenant organizations who rent space under the Common Roof Barrie came up with the shared space idea. The tenants highly participated in the planning, development, and implementation of the social enterprise. From a governance point of view, there was a substantial amount of community participation with seven boards of directors working together including board members from the tenant organization, New Path Foundation, and New Path Youth and Family Services.
This social enterprise builds on existing strengths in the community because they benefit various organizations in the county by allowing tenants to pay below market rent. This means there is no mark-up in rent costs. Neville describes a scenario to better understand how this works: “An organization that wants 5,000 sq. ft. comes in to the Common Roof… and now they realize they may only need 4,000 sq. ft. This is because they no longer need to have their own boardrooms, washrooms, hallways, waiting rooms, and reception.” He goes on to say, “When the tenants use shared space they usually pay half the rent they normally would in their own space. Dedicated space may cost $12/sq. ft. while shared space may only cost $6/sq. ft.”
Development of Enterprise and Outcomes
The Common Roof aims to increase the funds available to tenant organizations so that clients benefit first, by decreasing their facility rental budgets. The enterprises mission and vision are:
- Mission: The Common Roof is a community-based social enterprise providing sustainable and professional work space for human-service nonprofit agencies.
- Vision: Building a healthy, growing community for children, youth, and families for today and tomorrow.
The shared space concept at the Common Roof is set up for long-term sustainability and collaboration to help other non-profit organizations benefit in the community.
The core business model for this social enterprise is a multi-tenant non-profit centre. The Common Roof is a trademarked business model but it is not the only shared space model. Each organization under the Common Roof has a lease. Leases are based on two models: long-term lease (10 years fixed rate) or a short-term lease (five years). There are a number of other variables taken into consideration for each organization to determine which lease is best for them and ultimately, for the Common Roof structure. The organizations who lease rent space under the Common Roof are known as tenant organizations.
The tenant organizations paid money upfront as a “ticket in” and that money went to lower the cost of running the building. One interesting feature of the model, according to Neville, is that once the mortgage for the building is paid, the organizations who bought in at the beginning will receive between 50-60% of their “rent” back. The “rent” each organization will receive back will be regarded as an unrestricted grant. The amount of each grant is consistent with each organization’s rent but it is not as if they are getting a “rent rebate”, they are just getting their equity returned. Most organizations will use the money to buy new programming, purchase resources for clients, and/or offer a new program.
According to Neville, the Common Roof is recognized as a social enterprise only by people in the community who are knowledgeable about social enterprise. They do not advertise that they are a social enterprise because it is a complicated term. At the Common Roof, they are more inclined so tell others they are running a program through a multi-tenant model because it makes more sense to people.
All tenant organizations accepted into the Common Roof are non-profit organizations in the Simcoe County region. The tenant organizations restrict their services to this region as well. The Barrie and Orillia Common Roof locations are centrally located in each city. The buildings are fully accessible to all clients and cover a large service area.
The business model has not changed but it has been refined over time. The refinements take place as the tenant organizations continue learning how to “live” together under one roof. The secret to the whole thing, according to Neville, is “to stay focused on the vision, mission, and not wonder away from them. It will be really tempting to try other things but the business lesson you learn is to stick to your knitting.”
Major developmental milestones for this social enterprise include opening the new building in Orillia, receiving a significant government grant, and playing a leadership role for a conference in Denver, Colorado. The new building in Orillia allows for more people with barriers to transportation to reach the services of tenant organizations in Simcoe County. The government grant was used to purchase space for the Common Roof. The Denver conference enabled various community members, organizations, and the government bodies to come together to discuss the Common Roof concept at a deep level. According to evaluation results it has been one of their best conferences. Awareness about the model will continue with a similar conference in Ottawa in the future.
The Common Roof uses a shared space concept which means that organizations are able to maximize their resources, increase their cost efficiencies, reduce the amount of space they really need (because the other part of the space is shared space), and in the end have a more effective not-for-profit centre. A more effective not-for-profit centre also means a more vibrant community for residents.
The Common Roof is a program of New Path Ventures and managed by New Path Foundation which is incorporated as a charitable public foundation and is governed by a volunteer board of directors.The Common Roof currently has two locations in Ontario including one in Barrie (165 Ferris Lane) and the other in Orillia (169 Front Street South). The buildings are approximately half an hour apart from each other but offer the same services. The Barrie location has 25,000 sq. ft. of used professional workspace along with 4 acres of land whereas the Orillia location has 36,000 sq. ft. of new professional workspace available. The successful business model of the Barrie location was used to replicate the new model in Orillia.
New Path Foundation has been developing ideas to expand the building in Barrie between 5,000-8,000 sq. ft. This process involves architects (to see if the structure could permit expansion) and the city (for building permits). Neville states that they are obligated to expand the building in Barrie because it is full.
The buildings in Barrie and Orillia are owned by New Path Foundation, which has a separate board of directors from the Common Roof. The business structure is also managed by New Path Foundation who is responsible for leasing out five year and ten year signed contracts to tenant organizations. Each lease has a formula that lays out the dedicated space, shared space, and common space. The Barrie location currently offers ten year leases whereas the Orillia location has a mixture of five year and ten year leases.
Decision-making is seen as a major strength under the Common Roof due to the simple tenant-partner governance structure. The five tenant organizations have an equal say in the progress of the building, how it is run, and what the “rules” are in the building. Tenant partner Executive Directors and Common Roof staff meet once a month to make important decisions about ongoing policies. Neville states some of the policies they must come to agreement on include “who we should let in, whether there is smoking or non-smoking, what do we do with dogs, what the waiting room should look like, how we deal with upset clients, what the fire plan will be” and more.
The Common Roof is unique because there are seven boards of directors working together. Each of the five tenant organizations has a board and the other two boards include that of New Path Foundation and New Path Youth and Family Services. New Path Foundation has authority over the tenant organizations and New Path Youth and Family Services has authority over New Path Foundation. The board of New Path Foundation can override any decisions of the committees or from tenant partners if they believe the decisions go against the fundamentals of the Common Roof.
Under the governance structure there are a variety of committees that “make things happen.” Committees include the Art Committee, Barrie Common Roof Partners, Building Committee, French Language Task Group, Gardening Committee, Health and Safety Committee, and the Social Committee. Managers and other staff of the tenant organizations voluntarily sit on these committees. Meetings range from once a month, every other month, four times a year, and when needed i.e. Social Committee.
New Path Foundation participates in various community activities because of their expertise in developing and successfully running a professional shared space model. Their community involvement includes sitting on committees, attending workshops, and presenting at conferences, which connects them to individuals familiar with or interested in shared space models and social enterprise concepts.
All of the tenant organizations are partners under the Common Roof. They all serve the same demographics with specific needs in mental health and/or disabilities. The Common Roof partnerships include New Path Youth and Family Services, Catulpa Community Support Services Inc., Canadian Mental Health Association, Simcoe County Branch, and Children’s Treatment Network of Simcoe York. Neville says the enterprise is an evolving business still learning to collaborate with different organizations.
New Path Foundation provides the Common Roof with a maintenance program which is shared by the parent organization to all of its programs. They are responsible for hiring, training, and assigning maintenance tasks at the Common Roof. Neville shares about the maintenance program: “say you are sitting in your office and you see a bunch of ants in your office, you type in to thecommonroofmaintenance.ca to notify Common Roof staff of the problem. The maintenance manager then delegates the number of staff needed to fix the problem… the bottom line is that we get instant feedback about how the building is running on a regular basis.” The Common Roof also has its own functioning information technology (IT) support in which the tenant organizations help run the desk offered in the Barrie location.
Tenant organizations also seek support outside the Common Roof to benefit everyone. For example, some leaders sought legal and policy advice regarding an accessibility debate for the Orillia location. Advice was used to see how accessibility has worked for other organizations and how it could work for the Common Roof. Neville adds that “9 times out of 10 the organizations will have someone in their staff or on their board that has expertise in the topic needing help for… this is a benefit of many organizations working together.”
Volunteers at the Common Roof come from the 7 board of directors. New Path Foundation and New Path Youth and Family Services have approximately 15 board members between their organizations while the tenant organizations have approximately 5-10 board members on each board. Employees of the tenant organizations volunteer their time to participate in the various committees at the Common Roof previously mentioned. New Path Foundation does not hire unpaid/paid interns or students but many of the tenant organizations do. It is the responsibility of the tenant organizations to manage their own employees, interns, students, and/or volunteers in the shared space model at the Common Roof.
New Path Foundation is tied to the benefit plans of New Path Youth and Family Services. Neville says “our benefit plans are well regarded; we have one of the best benefit plans compared to other not-for-profit organizations in the area.” He also goes on to say that “many workers chose to be here by contract so they do not participate in the benefit plans by choice”. The five employees at the Common Roof are long-term employees because they enjoy the work they do and receive proper recognition for that work: “it is a fun job so people stay.” The five employees maintain either a full-time or part-time position at the Common Roof. Positions include maintenance staff, part of the CEO’s time at New Path, and part of the Vice President’s time at New Path. Some roles are shared between New Path Foundation and the Common Roof initiatives. There are approximately 100 other employees working under the Common Roof Barrie between the five tenant organizations.
Neville says the only turnover is due to illness, relocation, or retirement. In addition, there has been some turnover with tenant partners in the past as 1-2 organizations left the shared space model. These organizations did not share the same vision as the other organizations at the Common Roof so it was not a good fit. Growth came from the development of new positions at the Common Roof filled by staff from New Path Foundation. Neville, for example, was moved from a resource development/fundraising position at New Path Foundation to assume new responsibility in a Common Roof development position
Neville believes that much of the Common Roof’s success is a direct result of the leadership employees bring to the shared space model. The CEO and President bring a marketing, business, and social enterprise background. The Vice President of Finance spent many years previously in social enterprise activities in Toronto. The Vice President of Common Roof Development (Neville) was exposed to social enterprise in another career which he brought expertise from before beginning the new shared space development. These leaders, among others, have a clear understanding of social enterprise, strongly support it, and strongly see the benefit of the business model.
Professional development includes monthly tenant partner meetings and workshops. All employees participate in workshops approximately twice a year that pertain to the shared space model. There are currently no in-house training opportunities between the tenant organizations but this is something they are looking at doing in the future. Some of the tenant organizations send their staff to workshops or conferences that the Common Roof employees attend. Neville states that the more informed people are about the Common Roof model the more they want to contribute.
The main marketing sources for the Common Roof include their website, which can be found at www.thecommonroof.ca, and online articles that have been published about their shared space model. Fundraising initiatives through New Path Foundation use some social media outlets but the Common Roof does not use any at this time.
New Path Foundation, the parent organization, of the Common Roof has had an accounting system in place since its inception in 2000. The Common Roof uses the same accounting system as it is a program of the Foundation. Essentially, everything is done under one system which allows centralization between the parent organization and its programs. New Path Foundation manages and operates the accounting system for all of its programs and is responsible for ensuring the availability of financial resources for all of its programs in Simcoe County. Accordingly, when reports come out for New Path Foundation there is a section dedicated to the Common Roof and any other programs occurring that fiscal year.
Neville says that funders become interested in the Common Roof because of their successful business model. See below for a list of funding received throughout the Common Roof’s lifecycle to date:
|2005||Undetermined||Undetermined||Start-up (purchased and renovated Barrie building, mortgage)|
|2011||Approximately $2 million||Federal-Provincial Grant||Start-up (purchased Orillia building, mortgage)|
The cost of running each building is worked into the leases of the tenant organizations. For example, the five tenant organizations in the Barrie building pay rent which covers the total cost of keeping the Common Roof going when combined together. Neville says that “in ways it is as if they fund the building even though the money is seen as rent. Things such as tax, water, and maintenance are taken into consideration each month to see where we can lower costs on an ongoing basis.” Nonetheless, this social enterprise would like to receive more government funding.
The tenant partners often provide the social enterprise with various materials such as desks, white boards, and other office supplies. If the tenant partners see an opportunity where they can help they usually act on it for the good of all the other partners in the shared space. Neville describes how in-kind donations from tenant partners help: “sometimes tenant organizations have in their budget line things for maintenance. For example, say they are need of a new light fixture for their office… it is not the responsibility of the tenant to use their own budget to fix the light; it is the responsibility of the Common Roof to do so. But sometimes the tenant organizations access their budget line for maintenance work anyway. They ask us for the bill and pay for it themselves… this is a shared resource.” The tenant organizations have an interest in making sure maintenance is done efficiently because they do not want to see their monthly rent increase. At times when the Common Roof is renovating they will put information on their website about the resources they are in most need of i.e. flooring and installation.
According to Neville the most important non-financial support the social enterprise receives is leadership. The leadership knows how collaboration works and can stay focused on the vision and mission. Leadership not only comes from New Path Foundation staff and board but also from the tenant partners who have leases with the Common Roof. Neville says that “before the Common Roof makes a move the tenant partners want to know what is happening and often they will turn around and contribute to the ideas, development, planning, and implementation of things.” The tenant partners want to see the social enterprise succeed so they can succeed.
The only debt the Common Roof has is from the mortgage of the building. New Path Foundation is not interested in a profit, and any excess money or resources they do receive is fed back into client products and/or services. They do not wish to turn a profit but they also do not have a loss. The Common Roof must break-even every year as this is built right into the business plan; this allows for self-sustainability.
Neville has been a leader in developing the Common Roof model in Simcoe County. He believes they are 100% sustainable. They are sustainable because the financial model allows them to run without depending on external funding or grants after the development phase.
Challenges and Successes
The Common Roof program stops at nothing as they are committed to positive change. The first challenge arose when the development phase of the social enterprise started. Glen Newby, CEO of New Path Foundation, chaired the leadership of development. He had to learn how to manage all of the tenant partners and their input in the project while also working with business planners.
The biggest challenge for the Common Roof has been learning how to collaborate with various tenant partners under one roof. Learning how to collaborate with tenant partners remains an ongoing challenge as new organizations come and go with different leases. They deal with this challenge by having monthly tenant partner meetings which remain transparent and open. According to Neville, the value of work under the Common Roof is that they have managed to take out the power piece that exists between most organizations. A client-centered mind-set is used to positively enhance collaboration; it reminds the organizations why they partnered in the first place.
The biggest improvements to the business are the development of a marketing plan and a strategic plan. The strategic plan is evolving over a five year period. These strategies are important for leading the tenant organizations in the same direction as the Common Roof.
The Common Roof in Barrie (25,000 sq. ft.) has been at full capacity since opening in 2006 while the building in Orillia (36,000 sq. ft.) is at half capacity since opening in 2011. Neville suspects the Orillia building will be full by the end of 2013. He states the impact that the shared space model has on tenant organizations, individuals, and families is truly inspiring. Neville states that “so many people are benefiting from the shared space model simply because someone realized that if we live together and we are smart about it we can serve more clients, and serve them better.
To date, they have maximized the efficiency and effectiveness of the tenant organizations working under one roof. Neville goes on to say “we provide great professional work space and we help others get more bang for their dollar… this is the kind of things we really focus on here at the Common Roof.” Important outcomes for the people they work with include efficient use of space, service, and infrastructure. Outcomes for the organization include providing opportunities for collaboration between tenant partners. They also hope to maintain a very strong connection to New Path Foundation who is their parent organization. For the community they work they hope to build a healthy, growing community for children, youth, and families.
The end result has meant more services in Simcoe County and this will continue to happen on Neville’s watch: “this social enterprise is not going to sink, it is well sustained.” Their purpose of existence is not only to do social good and be environmentally friendly, but to follow a well thought out business plan. The benefit to New Path Foundation is that it ends up with an equity position.
New Path Foundation has a statement of values that naturally links with the Common Roof as a program of the Foundation. Many values can be integrated into what Neville shares about the Common Roof’s journey as a social enterprise. Neville shares some tips for people thinking of starting a social enterprise with a shared workspace model below:
- Build a business plan that works: do not go over your organizational capacity
- Have a common vision and mission: this will drive partners to have similar perspectives about the shared space model; it will be difficult to exist if you have a tenant partner who is not on the same page as the rest of the partners
- Governance involvement and risk taking are key: all of the boards need to be involved; everyone needs to agree on taking the risk for a shared space adventure; boards who do not take the risk lose out; “we are comfortable with measured risk, learn from our successes and challenges, and embrace opportunities that will maximize our impact”
- Be prepared to collaborate: sharing, collaborating, and compromising is key; this makes for the best learning environment; incorporate everyone’s ideas into the mix; “we actively encourage, support, and invest in partnerships”
- Practice due diligence: take the proper legal steps when buying and/or selling something i.e. property, building
- Build a core leadership team: a leadership team produces synergy for multiple organizations working together; “we are constantly learning, growing, and evolving through great leadership” “to influence change in our communities”
- Get the “right people on the bus”: shared space models are not for all organizations, take the time to get the right organizations on board
- Be honest: be honest about money; have “money talks” with all the people involved in your social enterprise
- Act on synergy: if you say you are going to do something then do it
- Leverage resources: resources can be pulled from all sorts of places; most importantly, tenants can use their own budget lines for some items
- Be patient: recognize that everything takes longer than you think “do not run off and solve every little problem because sometimes there are no immediate solutions”; don’t commit; accept change; “let things be and they will work out”
- Remember doing business is a steep learning curve: what you think you could do early on will be much different from you actually do in time; be open to change
- Due process is critical in business: treat everyone how you wish to be treated and watch the support for your social enterprise grow; “we value diversity, and treat everyone with respect, compassion, and dignity”
These are many factors crucial to the success of the Common Roof. Neville reminds us that understanding more about what social enterprise is, conducting research, and looking at what other people are doing in the community are all important to get going. The people at the Common Roof learned that there will be times to grow but if something is working it is important to keep it that way.
A positive aspect of running a social enterprise in Neville’s eyes is his ability to see a sustainable opportunity for not-for-profits to increase their services without increasing their budgets. He sees a secondary benefit to staff because there are multiple organizations working in the same building. He also sees a benefit to clients. He comments: “all the nonsense you hear about non-profits and people not being able to work together does not happen at the Common Roof; you come in here and see a level of sophistication that will blow you away… it is hard work to do this but it is beautiful to see.”
A downside of running a social enterprise is Neville’s feeling around the lack of awareness about social enterprise in the region. Many people know what the Common Roof is about but do not know how it is a social enterprise. Others do not know about shared space models at all. Neville and the other people on the leadership team use patience and transparency when helping others understand what they do.
In one year, the Common Roof hopes to have completed more research (for a research paper) and addressed the additional 5,000-8,000 sq. ft. expansion need for the Barrie location. The research will include things such as what kinds of organizations can work together, what kinds should not work together, how to handle overflow, how to solve problems, how to get funding, and more. The Common Roof wants to be able to educate others about the shared space model by marketing it in different areas.
In five years, they will have expanded their shared space business model outside of the community. The leadership will focus on assisting other organizations in developing similar shared space models. He comments that they “have a well-received, workable model that is going to take off; in five years we will be bigger.” There is also a possibility that the small maintenance program through New Path Foundation could be turned into an independent social enterprise program in five years. Rough ideas for a more efficient maintenance program would mean hiring more youth who could successfully transition into the workforce from their training and experience at the Common Roof.
In fifteen years, the Common Roof is hoping to have the mortgage for the Barrie for by this time. Neville shares that this goal also depends on how mortgage rates fluctuate over time.
Neville believes the whole Common Roof shared space model can be replicated if the right skill sets and leadership are involved to make it happen. A board that wants to benefit from the kinds of things that they offer could use the same business model. A very important aspect for those looking at replication is that the business model must be planned so the social enterprise is self-sustaining. Neville believes the Common Roof is just the tip of the iceberg in social enterprise; there is so much to be done still.
“The fact that we are full and increasing client services is the overall success story of the Common Roof.” – Neville Twine
The information for this case study was collected through an interview with Neville Twine, Vice President of Common Roof Development. Neville has over 30 years of experience in the not-for-profit sector. He also has expertise in human services, management, business planning, marketing, social services, and social enterprise models. He is also a member of SEAlliance and NonProfitCentres Network.
Author and Interviewer: Jessica Davis, Community Development Analyst, at United Way Greater Simcoe County
Case Study Completed: September 2013
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