The Power of Place

City Projects recognizes the power of place to inspire social change through real estate. Our belief is that the physical space in which an organization operates can strengthen and empower its mission. With nearly 50 clients and over $100 million in nonprofit facilities development we have seen the power of nonprofit facilities reveal itself in four distinct ways:

  1.  Impact on the organization
  2. Impact for those they serve
  3.  Impact on those who serve
  4.  Impact to the community

We have come to refer these tenets as our “four-legged stool” of nonprofit real estate development. It is critical that all four legs support an organization’s real estate in order to create the greatest amount of impact.

Regarding the first leg, when an organization makes a significant investment in their real estate it can be an exciting opportunity to breath new life into their mission and strengthen their operations. We have seen the built environment influence our clients’ fundraising capacity as well as increase their ability to build partnerships and brand identification. A popular and successful capital campaign can also reinvigorate an organization’s presence in the community and allow it to cultivate strong partnerships with funders and government agencies.

It is also important not to understate the significance the built environment can have have for the scores patients, participants and clients that are served by an organization. From the minute they walk through the front door, those who receive services are influenced by their surroundings.  For instance, if a safety-net clinic patient is treated in a warm, well-lit environment, they are more likely to return and exhibit better long-term health outcomes. Similarly, transitional housing for formerly homeless youth can provide stability and a place for building self-respect and learning new skills. Providing these critical services in a respectful and friendly environment sends a clear message to those who occupy it: “You are valuable and we welcome your presence.”

Those who serve—or the staff, board and volunteers who contribute to the mission—also thrive when placed in the correct setting. Working together to create a space designed for specific programs and the exchange of ideas respects their commitment to serving others. Productivity and operational effectiveness are diminished when staff are required to employ “work arounds” to use a space for something other than it was originally intended. Those who serve will feel that their work is important and respected when the built environment accommodates their needs.

Ultimately, we find that a nonprofit facility has the ability to impact the surrounding community to create profound ripple effects well beyond its four walls.  A community-driven process to determine programs, services and design can provide opportunities for jobs and foster economic development for the benefit of the community and others. These buildings then become the places and spaces for meaningful dialogue, spontaneous interaction, creating connections and accessing resources. Positioning the nonprofit as a source of community support in this way inevitably ties it more closely into the very fabric of the surrounding community; making the organization itself more visible, responsive and respected.

The built environment, when done well, represents the physical expression of the very missions these nonprofits serve. It is truly awe inspiring how these mere buildings can catalyze the transformation of people, places and communities in unexpected ways.