Ten Things Non-Profits Should Know When Choosing Office Space

  By Cheri Hennessy Durst

Photos courtesy CollaborationCore
(Photos courtesy CollaborationCore)

Is your organization growing out of a home office or considering moving your established set-up to a new facility? Before getting into the details of searching, your board should discuss the big picture issues such as:

  • Will a new location help our mission and the community we serve?
  • Should we rent, or is it time to own?
  • Should we do the searching or hire a realtor specializing in office rentals?

Build with a Purpose, a New Jersey-based non-profit, can help you start the conversation with their Helpful Guides to Facility Development.

Even though change can be exciting, for some moving your office from one location to another can be a daunting task. Many of the things you, your staff and volunteers are accustomed to may now turn into expenses for your organization. To make the process a bit easier, below are ten key questions to ask when searching for your new location.

  1. Does your potential new office include facilities management? A non-profit administrator worrying about the roof leaking and the heat failing takes away from important mission work. Not having this concern can lead to big returns at your organization.
  2. What utilities are included in your lease? Will you be the one paying the electric bill to keep the lights on? Depending on the age and type of space you are considering these fees could vary. If possible, ask current tenants what they pay, and budget accordingly. Also check out PSEG’s “Energy Calculator” with Energy Saving Tips and Tools.
  3. Will your staff and guests need to pay for parking, or is it included and plentiful?
  4. Does the office come furnished, or will you collaboration3have to incur this expense? Consider leasing instead of outright purchasing with contractors such as Swiftspace or Global, or work with a project manager such as Allstate Office Interiors or your local W.B. Mason representative.

Be sure to always ask for non-profit rates! Some public and private resources, such as universities and large corporations, can offer donated or discounted options, but understand that these will be hand-me-downs. Ask around!

  1. Ready to compare lease payment prices on copiers and other office equipment features? Will you get a maintenance contract or will you be paying each time a service call is made? What about toner and other supplies; are they included in your contract? Curious what goes into estimating a copier lease? See “How Much Does it Cost to Lease a Copier?” from CopierGuide. Similar questions will factor in if you choose to purchase your copier rather than lease it.
  2. Are phones and Internet access included, or will you need to pay extra? Do you have someone to move and set-up your current equipment? Hiring an outside firm to oversee your IT (Information Technology) support may be a necessary expense in your move. Through its IT Project, the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies ( NJAMHAA) offers all New Jersey non-profits low cost IT services including consultations, implementation and maintenance.
  3. Does the office include conference rooms or will you need to go elsewhere for meetings? Non-profits need space for board and committee meetings and they often host trainings. Consider whether your organization is okay with paying the extra square footage for a conference room that might not get used often versus the travel time and possible meeting room rental fees for your staff to go elsewhere.
  4. Will you have a kitchen area? If so, you’ll need to budget for appliances such as a coffee maker, refrigerator, and microwave. Don’t forget about the supplies that need to be re-stocked on a weekly basis.
  5. Does the office you’re considering have security? Will you need to install an alarm system or hire a security guard? Your employees deserve to feel safe and your insurance company will want to know that your assets are protected. The Nonprofit Risk Management Center advises non-profits to have policies with property coverages including building and contents, crime, workers’ compensation, and business interruption.
  6. Who will clean the office? A clean office is necessary to keep employees healthy and to uphold your reputation as a functioning organization. Cleaning services can be costly, but the alternative of assigning a staff member to this responsibility can often affect morale.

Be sure you know all of the costs before signing a lease, especially a long-term agreement that ties you to these expenditures for the long haul. These items can add up quickly, and you may want to seek legal counsel such as Pro Bono Partnership that reviews or negotiates commercial office leases in their services.

An alternative to leasing on your own, and a growing trend with non-profits, is to share office space and resources with another organization. Ask your contacts for referrals; they may have access to resources you never imagined. Or consider becoming a member of a non-profit co-op type group like the members at CollaborationCore in Central New Jersey. Residents pay a monthly fee that covers facilities management, utilities, internet access, furniture, mail sorting and receptionist. Optional services include conference rooms, use of copiers/printers, administrative support and special event space.

Congratulations if you’re moving space because your non-profit is growing! Be creative and open in your search, and be sure to get all the facts you possibly can and budget for every conceivable scenario.

linkedin photoCheri Hennessy Durst is the Director of CollaborationCore, a co-working space for non-profit organizations. Cheri has served in several leadership positions with non-profits including the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Pennington School, the Junior League of Greater Princeton, and has volunteered with Trenton Small Business Week, Floyd Fete, National Junior Tennis & Learning of Trenton, the YWCA Princeton and Villa Victoria Academy. She is a member of the Leadership Trenton Class of 2002.

Additional Resources:

  • The website HelpMovingOffice provides free checklists for every phase of your relocation plans.
  • “Non-Profit Space Exploration: Owning, Financing, Renting or Sharing?” Center for Non-Profits recorded webinar (free for Center members, $20 for non-members)
  • The Center for Non-Profits website often lists Available Space for Non-Profits.
  • For non-profits in the Central New Jersey area, please visit CollaborationCore, an office sharing space specifically for non-profits, with a simple pricing structure where everything is included! www.collaborationcore.org
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