Real Estate as a Tool for Nonprofit Self-Determination

Most of us generally understand that humans must have their basic needs met before they can engage in meaningful personal growth. If someone is struggling with hunger or can’t pay rent, it’s unlikely that they can ponder self-determining their own future by knowing and then having what it takes to achieve their own goals. The same thing happens in our community-serving organizations. If a nonprofit struggles to meet its basic needs – think constantly chasing funding or stressing about clients’ needs outpacing organizational capacity – then talking about shaping its future feels impossible at worst but unlikely at best.

Although NCN can’t offer a solution to fickle funding streams or overwhelming community need, we implore nonprofit leaders to break from their just-get-through-the-day mindset to consider the role of real estate in their organization’s self-determination. Securing stable, affordable workspace – through either purchasing real estate or colocating within a nonprofit center –  creates permanency of place for staff and clients, removes the risk of opportunistic owners/landlords, stabilizes nonprofits’ second largest expense behind staffing, and, in the case of ownership, builds financial equity that the organization can leverage for other needs. Too often at NCN we hear from nonprofits who are pursuing real estate seriously not because it was a strategic priority but because of some unfortunate change regarding their current office space. Perhaps their building was being sold or they were relying on free space from a donor who had reconsidered priorities or passed away, but by being caught in the only-meeting-immediate-needs cycle, they hadn’t thought about what happens next.

If you want to explore what real estate ownership or nonprofit colocation could mean for your nonprofit, we have over one hundred NCN members ready to talk to you about their journey and an NCN team with the capacity and expertise to help you along on your own. Or, if you already own your workspace or are co-located with other organizations but know of other nonprofits that would benefit from starting a conversation around real estate, let us help! Just as self-determination is a human right, self-determination for our nonprofits should be an organizational right.


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