All Good Work: Bringing Social Responsibility to the Shared Workspace Industry

A recent Forbes article describes a “stunning transition” over the last decade as corporate social responsibility has “evolved from a nice-to-have silo to a fundamental strategic priority for businesses large and small.”

In the coworking and business rental industry, AllGoodWork has emerged as a platform for space operators to support local nonprofits by providing free work space. Launched in August of 2016, AllGoodWork was co-founded by Frank Cottle, chairman and CEO of the Alliance Business Centers Group, executive director Nate Heasley, who piloted a similar project through his organization, Goodnik, and Tony Bacigalupo, who started the first dedicated coworking space in New York City and now runs New Work Cities.

I spoke with Heasley about the big picture vision for AllGoodWork, the success and challenges the organization has had so far, and the opportunity for space operators to give back to the community while also strengthening and showcasing their brand values.

Cat Johnson: What was the inspiration for AllGoodWork? How did it come about?

Nate Heasley: The rumor is that it started as a conversation between Laura Kozelouzek, founder and CEO of Quest Workspaces, and Frank Cottle. Laura runs a social responsibility program out of her space and a conversation between the two inspired the idea. They realized that we needed a social responsibility program for all the spaces—one that could bring them all together.

Frank talked with Tony Bacigalupo and told him, “I think this is something we should do as an industry and I think you should help do it.” Tony called me because we were all talking about the same thing, which was creating a social responsibility program for the coworking industry. We started shaping it based, in large part, on the pilot I had created with Goodnik in Residence. That allowed us to move quickly and have a comprehensive approach right off the bat rather than reinventing the wheel.

How does the project work? Who are you partnering with and what type of organizations are eligible?

Operators donate workstations or seats to us. It may be seats in a coworking space, or a dedicated desk or an office, depending on the space. Our basic requirement is that they offer whatever their most basic full-time membership is.

They donate the space and we find the appropriate organization to fill those seats. We do outreach to the local community, especially among the nonprofits and social enterprises. We get applicants and vet them, both for the kind of impact they’re doing as well as their current need for office space. We make sure they can use the space efficiently to maximize their social impact and that they’re doing verifiable social good. Then we present the candidate to the space.

What type of organizations does AllGoodWork work with?

We work with nonprofits and for-profit social enterprises. In the last 10 years, the idea of social enterprise has taken off. It’s gaining popularity, especially with younger folks. There’s something that appeals to folks about harnessing the power of entrepreneurialism, as well as doing good.

We take a careful eye when we’re vetting for-profit social enterprises. They need to have their primary goal as a positive social impact. They can’t just donate five percent of their profits to a nonprofit.

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Do community organizations pay to use spaces?

We strongly encourage organizations to pay $50 per seat, which is about a tenth of what a coworking space goes for in New York City. We may change that model when we go into other markets where their rates are lower—especially as we grow internationally. The idea is that we want to make AllGoodWork sustainable. We also think it’s really valuable that people appreciate what they’re getting.

When I ran my pilot projects and gave away space for free I found that, if you give something away for free, everyone wants it, even if they don’t need it. Then once they get it, they keep it whether they’re using it or not. We want people to think about whether they’re actually going to use that space.

Where is AllGoodWork active at this point?

We’re taking a market-based approach. We’re active now in New York City and the Denver/Boulder area. The reason we’re only active in those areas, even though we have interest from many other places, is that, for us to do outreach to the local social entrepreneur and nonprofit communities, it’s a fixed amount of work. There’s a certain amount of work that goes into that, regardless of how many seats we’re trying to fill.

We decided to launch in cities where there’s a strong crossover between nonprofit social enterprise and coworking. We’re in two cities right now and looking at doing another three or four cities this year.

We want to make sure we have geographic diversity [within cities]. Where a space is located really matters. In New York, if you have to take two different subway trains to get there, you’re not going to go.

In addition to community goodwill, how does the project benefit space providers?

Goodwill is great. Being a good corporate citizen is something that many of the spaces we work with aspire to, and that is their primary motivator. We’re also making sure they’re getting attention for that good work. As a national organization, we’re helping them get the attention they need. It helps bring them other business and it helps bring the right kind of community members to their spaces.

Many of these operators already do good deeds—they give discounts to nonprofits or free seats to early stage social enterprises. The problem is that they do it in a vacuum and do it without getting credit for it. We’re making sure that they’re getting credit for it and, if they are donating seats, that they’re filling them with the best possible organizations that are available.

The coworking and business rental industry is booming right now. Why is a project like AllGoodWork important in this ecosystem?

The coworking space industry, the serviced office industry, has really boomed, in large part, because of its focus on people and not real estate. With a program like this, we’re emphasizing the people, we’re emphasizing the residents, we’re emphasizing the kind of people you want to have in a space and the people you want to surround yourself with.

As the industry moves away from being about real estate and more to being about people who inhabit that space, we think promoting a program like this lets the industry put its best face forward and show that there are people who really care, who run these centers, who work in these centers, who support their organizations locally and are really tied to the community they’re in. That’s the intersection of serviced office industry and what’s happening in general with more focus on local and community-based organizations.

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