CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After the Children and Family Services Center opened in 2003, a facility that houses 10 agencies and provides them with shared back-office services, the first piece of equipment it purchased was a postage meter.
The process took a year.
“Every executive director and every office manager not only had to weigh in but they also had to get comfortable with that decision,” says Peggy Eagan, the center’s executive director.
Five years later, when the lease for the machine expired, the center made a decision on a new postage meter in just two months.
Eagan says the center has boosted its member agencies’ capacity and lowered their costs, saving them a total of over $8 million.
The center, for example, charges below-market rent to its member agencies, and has saved some of them 28 percent of the cost of handling their payroll.
And this year, by using a single auditor for all of them, it will save a total of over $14,000 for the six member agencies for which it provides financial services and human-resources services.
A staff of five financial-services professionals assists those six agencies in accounting, financial reporting, financial analysis and developing budgets.
The center also provides all its member agencies with technology services, including wiring, networking, a phone system, computers and tech support.
And its human-resources staff, including a certified human-resources professional, assists those six agencies with hiring, performance management, payroll, compliance with federal employment laws, and employee relations.
In addition to the financial savings, Eagan says, the center also has boosted the capacity of its member agencies, giving them “access to things they did not dream about before we moved in together.”
Those include a Cisco Systems phone system that delivers voice mail messages through members’ email systems, and gives them 24-hour-a-day secure access to their computers from remote locations.
Now, thanks to a $50,000 grant from Foundation for the Carolinas, the center will be testing the feasibility of offering its shared human-resources services to other nonprofits.
Operating with an annual budget of roughly $2 million, the center manages the 100,000-square-foot facility, including shared space that consists of nine conference rooms, two training rooms and a board room, all of which also are available for a fee for use by other nonprofits.
Overall, the 10 agencies employ 350 people and serve 95,000 clients a year.
The center, with a staff of two people, manages collaboration among its member agencies and also created a limited liability corporation that manages the shared services for its members.
Collaboration can be tough, Eagan says.
“Collaboration takes longer and is more difficult than most people would estimate,” she says. “In true collaboration, everyone’s interests have to be heard, and they have to have the opportunity to consider the impact on their business, as well as the good of the group.”
But the savings and increased capacity from shared services, and the opportunity to develop new ways to work together, outweigh any disadvantages, she says.
“As human beings, we just don’t share well,” she says.
But the center, she says, is “putting people in a position to bring their toys to the table and take their hands away.”