Planning new facilities, expanding existing ones, or renovating requires specialized guidance and resources.

Sustainable Capital Projects

The Foraker Nonprofit Sustainability Model focuses on the elements that support the successful operation and longevity of an organization. The right capital project can contribute to the viability of an organization while the wrong project can threaten it.

So, what is a sustainable project? It has several elements. The first is to establish that the project is, in fact, needed. Some initial questions are answered in the affirmative like: Is more space needed to house new or expanded programs? Do programs have a documented need in the community? Is there identified long-term operational funding for the new or expanded space? Or can an organization’s space needs be accommodated through more efficient use of existing facilities?

The project should also be consistent with strategic and community plans. The organization’s plan must reflect the reality of the community’s growth and development. Many communities in Alaska are experiencing a historic decline in population, which can impact the need for an organization’s services and the size of the facility to deliver them. A sustainable project considers all these factors from conception to reality.

A sustainable project is one that accurately determines that an organization’s space requirements are the right size for its purpose. If it is too large, it will waste resources – if too small, it will diminish staff productivity and limit service delivery. For example, the larger the building the more it will cost to construct and the more it will cost to operate. A sustainable project balances the size of the facility with the ability to raise funds to build it and the availability of operating funds. On the other hand, not building enough space may lead to the need for a costly addition before the organization has fully settled into its new facility. Additionally, a new stand-alone building is not always the only solution. Focusing on the larger goal of mission delivery may mean that exploring a range of opportunities including rental options, renovation of the existing space, or creative collaboration with others to share space efficiently are better answers. Getting the balance of space, construction cost, and operating funds right may require multiple iterations of the planning process and some targeted technical assistance. Going slow to go fast is a hallmark of the pre-development phase of any project.

In its design, a sustainable project minimizes operating expenses through the choice of long-lasting, low-maintenance materials and energy-efficient systems. For example, spending more on a design that creates a well-insulated building with natural ventilation, low flow water fixtures, and maximum daylight can substantially reduce utility costs and the long-term viability of the space along with stewardship of the mission’s resources. There is also a broader context to consider in which sustainable design can contribute to the long-term survival of our communities and the planet.

Finally, judging if a project is sustainable is determined both by the organization that is envisioning it and by the financial investors (foundations, corporations, people, and the government) who will fund it. During the pre-development phase, the organization must carefully consider answers to the questions below so they can address any concerns from their investors. Most answers will be found in the strategic plan, business plan, fundraising plan, and building plans themselves. In the end, funders will want to ensure they are supporting a viable project that will not have a negative impact on the organization’s sustainability.

  1. Does the building meet a documented need?
  2. Is it consistent with strategic community plans?
  3. Is it the correct size for program needs and the available operating budget?
  4. Is it taking advantage of efficient building practices?
  5. Have opportunities for collaboration been considered?
  6. Has site control been established on a suitable site?
  7. Is there a valid estimate of project costs?
  8. Is there a realistic plan for capital funding?
  9. Is there a business plan for the sustainable operation of the facility?
  10. Is there a realistic schedule and development phase?

Foraker encourages organizations planning capital projects to consider how a focus on sustainability will benefit not only their mission but also the nonprofit sector and the communities they serve.