I traveled to London last month on behalf of Tides to speak at a conference. The conference focused on strategies for nonprofit capacity building and what “third sector” (the U.K. term for nonprofit) organizations could learn from international models. I represented the U.S.; other speakers hailed from New Zealand, Cyprus, and East Africa. The conference was sponsored by an organization called Capacity Builders, which receives lots of funding from the U.K. government to increase the capacity and improve the operations of UK nonprofits. (Now that’s a concept: the federal government funding nonprofit success.)
It actually makes lots of sense in the U.K. context since most funding for nonprofits there comes from governmental bodies at the federal, county, and local level (not that it wouldn’t make sense here, as the U.S. increasingly relies on nonprofits to provide valuable and desperately needed services). The major impetus for looking at other models, however, is the dire financial situation in the U.K. There will be an election this spring, but regardless of who wins – Labour or the Tories – nonprofit leaders are predicting that budget allocations to the third sector will be cut drastically. (As a California resident, it feels much like our pins-and-needles wait to see what nonprofits and services will be cut in Schwarzenegger’s next budget cycle.)
I was asked by the conference organizers to talk about fiscal sponsorship in the context of other infrastructure services provided by Tides. Attendees included heads of federations of nonprofits; representatives of women- or people of color-led organizations; senior leaders of the U.K. equivalent of Independent Sector and the Council on Foundations; and groups providing services on the county and local levels. Although, in fact, fiscal sponsorship does exist in the U.K. on an informal level (as it does in the U.S.), there are no organizations providing comprehensive fiscal sponsorship programs like Tides and Third Sector New England provide in the U.S. Indeed, many attendees had never heard of the concept. So my presentation was well received and my workshops well attended. I’m looking forward to follow up from attendees with Tides and Tides Canada on the viability of this smart, efficient, cost-effective model for the U.K.
I also met with a number of folks in Amsterdam and London who own and operate shared space. I visited the Hub Kings Cross London and the Hub Amsterdam. Both were beautiful hot desk and meeting spaces for social entrepreneurs, and affiliated with the San Francisco Bay Area Hub (which Tides has funded). I also met with folks from the Ethical Property Company, which operates 15 nonprofit centers in the U.K. and are expanding into continental Europe. Interestingly enough, the Hub and Ethical Property are both for-profit companies. I also visited CAN Mezzanine, a nonprofit running nonprofit shared space in London in three prime locations, as well as some buildings owned by individual social justice nonprofits that include shared space. It was exciting to meet international proponents of shared space and exchange experiences and learnings; it’s also validating to see the nonprofit innovations that we’ve championed for years spread globally. It is my hope that Tides will collaborate with them more in the future, especially as they expand to North America.