Nonprofits and Shared Use

How can community organizations promote shared use agreements?
Shared Use Examples

ChangeLab Solutions’ new Shared Use Playbook offers guidance on how community-based nonprofits can promote play and exercise through shared use agreements.

Shared Use Addresses a Common Problem

For the nearly 15,000 Tongan Americans who live in Salt Lake County, Utah, a survey by the local chapter of the National Tongan American Society found two key culprits causing low rates of physical activity within the community. First, the survey uncovered that most residents did not have access to essential resources like gym memberships, exercise equipment, or even safe sidewalks. And second, the survey revealed that residents preferred to exercise with other people but there were few affordable options for group activities.

Community-based organizations across the country have embraced shared use agreements as a solution for improving health and equity at the local level.

This unfortunate scenario is all too familiar for many Americans. People want opportunities for exercise and recreation yet can’t find safe, affordable options near where they live or work. To address this problem, the National Tongan American Society (NTAS) contacted ChangeLab Solutions for help in developing shared use agreements with churches and schools, since both had exercise resources that weren’t always in use. Shared use agreements — also called joint use agreements or community use agreements — are a policy strategy that can support safe and healthy communities by increasing opportunities for health, physical activity, and leisure, using existing community resources. As a result of NTAS’s efforts, 6 churches, 5 schools, and 1 community center agreed to open their recreation rooms, running tracks, and basketball and tennis courts for public use, even offering to host volleyball tournaments and free Zumba classes.

Other community-based organizations across the country have also embraced shared use agreements as a solution for improving health and equity at the local level. For example, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, the health and social services organization Asian Services in Action partnered with a shopping center to offer tai chi classes for seniors in the central plaza. In other states, like Arkansas, the Department of Education funds school districts to form shared use partnerships with government entities, nonprofits, and faith institutions. Both of these partnerships used tools from ChangeLab Solutions in developing their shared use agreements.

Three Primary Roles for Community Organizations

Referring to ChangeLab Solutions’ new Shared Use Playbook, ChangeLab Solutions senior staff attorney Sara Bartel identifies 3 primary ways for community-based nonprofits to help foster and maintain shared use agreements:

First, Bartel recommends that organizations help assess local interest and build community support for shared use agreements. Organizations can assess the attitudes and goals of residents in a community by gathering information from a wide range of sources. This approach helps ensure that a variety of perspectives — particularly the perspectives of residents who would be most affected — influence the decision-making process for potential shared use agreements.

"Community-based organizations can be the keystone partners that bring everyone else together."

“Community buy-in is indispensable for ensuring long-term success,” says Bartel. “Nonprofits that are trying to empower and support underserved communities through shared use agreements need to make sure that residents help determine the services that the partnership is slated to deliver and then continue to support them. If residents want community gardens instead of yoga classes, leaders and advocates need to seek out and listen to those voices.”

Bartel’s second suggestion is that community-based nonprofits help provide and facilitate potential shared use opportunities. Recreation facilities might be hidden behind closed doors or fences; nonprofits can do the research and outreach to help make these gyms and playgrounds available for public access.

“Shared used projects require cooperation between several partners,” explains Bartel. “Community-based organizations can be the keystone partners that bring everyone else together — especially for collaborative funding opportunities and grant applications.”

Finally, Bartel recommends that nonprofits play a role in implementing and improving shared use agreements. This crucial role can take many forms:

  • Advocating for local policies that promote broader use of shared use projects
  • Providing information to property owners who want to open their facilities for community use
  • Coordinating volunteers and programming for existing shared use spaces
  • Taking on maintenance or other responsibilities

“Shared use agreements are a proven strategy for improving community health and equity,” says Bartel. “The beautiful thing about community use is that we’ve seen it work in a huge diversity of places — communities of every shape and size. And community-based organizations continue to be catalysts for its widespread adoption.

“This is a role for local nonprofits that can change the landscape of their community for the better,” she adds.


ChangeLab Solutions works across the nation to advance equitable laws and policies that promote a healthy life for all. Download our new Shared Use Playbook.