Nancy Zallek never anticipated her job would involve endless conversations about plumbing, flooring and electrical wiring.
It wasn’t really in her job description, but that’s just what happens when you build and later expand upon a successful nonprofit center. “I now know more about HVAC than I ever cared to,” Zallek said, laughing. “But it’s all for a great cause.”
Zallek’s foray into the world of property renovation and management began back in 2012. During a Mankato Area Foundation (MAF) Board of Directors retreat that year, the board made it part of the Foundation’s strategic plan to lead the concept of creating a nonprofit center in Mankato—if and when the right space became available. In 2014, the Blethen Gage and Krause law firm decided to move out of their space in the old Michael’s restaurant building and the building checked every box on MAF’s wish list.
“It was centrally located, it provided ample parking space and it could fit at least six nonprofits’ office and storage needs,” Zallek said. “It was meant to be.”
Thus, MAF’s strategic plan was set in motion. The idea was to create a nonprofit hub—a space in which organizations could share resources, easily connect and interact with each other, host volunteers and stakeholder meetings in large conference rooms and raise the visibility and professionalism of the nonprofit sector in Mankato.
Of course, realizing a dream like that would cost money.
“Our board readily accepted the challenge of raising the necessary funds to purchase and renovate the space,” Zallek said. “I approached long-time community leader and MAF board member Denny Dotson and asked if he thought the concept would resonate with other potential donors at that time. He said, ‘Let’s call on a few people and see.’”
They called eleven and bought the building with the support of nine of those donors. Thanks to their enthusiasm, other donors and regional foundations stepped up to help us implement this cutting-edge initiative for the nonprofit sector, providing cash, in-kind contributions and expertise.
By 2015, Shared Spaces was open for business with six tenant organizations and about 25 employees housed in the building. It quickly became an epicenter for nonprofit activity, welcoming dozens of nonprofit colleagues and thousands of volunteers through its
“Shared Spaces is even more successful than we dreamed,” Zallek said. “Recently, one of our nonprofit partners described it as the place to go if you want to make things happen in Mankato.”
Within a few short years, it became evident that Shared Spaces tenants were already outgrowing the building. Total staff counts grew to more than 40 employees, and each organization needed additional office space and access to community rooms.
In 2018, just when we were wondering how we could possibly address those needs, Tony Frentz and Rob Else offered to donate the only adjacent real estate into which Shared Spaces could expand: the building next to the back half of Shared Spaces and behind Tandem Bagels.
“We were so fortunate to have everything fall into place like it did,” Zallek said. “Once again, our generous donors stepped up and made it possible to create the Shared Spaces Philanthropy Center (SSPC), allowing the nonprofit tenants to realign and utilize all of the offices and meeting rooms in our original Shared Spaces next door. Because we share expenses rather than charge rent and we pool our resources, our tenant organizations are able to put their savings from overhead costs toward their programming.”
In January of 2020, construction and renovation began on the SSPC annex. The goal was simple: to dedicate a community space to charitable giving.
“We want this location to become a home for all nonprofits or individuals working to promote philanthropy,” Zallek said. “We want to create an atmosphere that strengthens an understanding of how important charitable giving has been and continues to be for our community.”
The SSPC features new office space for the growing MAF staff and a conference room open to anyone hosting conversations about giving. “The concept of philanthropy has often felt formal and intimidating,” Zallek said. “We want this space to change that. We want giving to be fun, creative and accessible.”
In September 2020, on the fifth anniversary of the original Shared Spaces opening, the Shared Spaces Philanthropy Center welcomed its first guests.
“We would have loved to have had a big open house to celebrate this space, but of course, that wasn’t possible during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Zallek said. “The people who have stopped by to see the new area have all admired its innovative concept and design. So many have said, ‘I would love to meet with you here. It feels like I’m in your living room!’ And that was precisely the goal—to make philanthropy feel warm, creative and welcoming.”
MAF’s donors recognized that an investment in this expansion was an investment in the greater good of the community. MAF and the other tenant organizations on our Shared Spaces “campus” are putting that investment to good use.
“We are all relishing the hard work by so many people that went into this space. And you know what? All of those days of hardhats and blueprints were worth it,” Zallek said. “It is so much fun coming to work here every day. All of Shared Spaces is filled with incredible people doing incredible work, and to me, there is no better celebration of the power of philanthropy in Mankato.”