Helping Nonprofits Rethink Workplaces And Architecture

Philanthropic groups deserve effective workspaces and mission-critical facilities to support volunteers and employees, and better serve their causes and constituencies.

The Staten Island Family Justice Center uses architectural innovations to consolidate space needs while boosting effectiveness, such as its family waiting area with ample windows and transparent partitions. Photography: Paul Rivera

By Roger Marquis, Assoc. AIA, Spacesmith

With a mission, vision, financial structure, and client base very different from for-profit organizations, nonprofit groups have historically viewed their headquarters and office spaces as liabilities rather than assets. Instead of allocating funding to maintain or update appearance and functionality, many nonprofits operate under the philosophy that charitable organizations should avoid investing too much in facilities, or risk appearing spendthrift. Philanthropic groups and social-service agencies must rethink their mindset, especially if they wish to remain relevant, attract talent, and appeal to sponsors, donors, and board members.

“As for-profit companies have come to learn that workplace design has a profound impact on employee productivity, well-being, and engagement, as well as the retention and recruitment of talent, nonprofits need to adopt this mindset and follow suit,” said Marc Gordon, AIA, a partner at Spacesmith, New York, who has worked with numerous social entrepreneurs and public agencies. “Nonprofits need to understand the research and best practices behind today’s innovative office layouts, amenities, sustainable design elements, and environmental factors such as acoustics, lighting, and ambient temperature. These, and even emerging ideas like biophilia, the use of plantings, and natural finishes, all play a role in a modern company’s success.”

Whether the budget is small or large, architects and workplace designers can help nonprofits better analyze their physical assets and spaces, furniture, equipment, technology, and layout needs in ways to best leverage office design. Best-in-class workplaces take this into consideration while still following the organization’s mission, vision, and brand.

Spacesmith reorganized the headquarters of a major regional family-services provider to optimize its limited office area and constrained operational footprint. The interior architecture supports the organization’s new “mobile workforce” program, freeing many of its 300 employees to spend more than 50% of their time outside the office—boosting caseworker and therapist productivity—and equipping staff with key tools and technologies for on-the-road services. Back at the main facility, desk sharing, flexible training rooms, visiting suites, phone booths, and storage zones deliver the resources needed in a lean 90 sq. ft. per person. The offices still function as home base for client intake, therapy meetings, case files, and foster-parent training. The staff can access everything from books and toys to strollers and diapers, with ample family visiting areas and a medical clinic to round out their support mission.

Whether the budget is small or large, architects and workplace designers can help nonprofits better analyze their physical assets and spaces, furniture, equipment, technology, and layout needs.

Efficient and Productive

Through design, an office location can become more efficient with respect to productivity and cost, serving as a foundation for long-term success. Proving the point is the 15,000-sq.-ft. home for Part of the Solutions (POTS), a multifaceted poverty services organization located in the Bronx, New York. With highly resilient finishes, flexible interior layouts, and a modern, welcoming expression, the facility has become a cornerstone of community life. Inside, clients benefit from an office for legal service and counseling, a full-service kitchen and dining area, food pantry, clothing exchange, showers, barber shop, and full medical and dental suites.

Other designs are creating more effective, sustainable public agencies, such as the Staten Island Family Justice Center. The facility uses architectural innovations to consolidate space needs while boosting effectiveness, such as its family waiting area with ample windows and transparent partitions to comfort parents and caregivers while they leave children for meetings nearby. The center’s flexibility is supplemented with a furnished multipurpose room that supports group training and quickly resets as a conference room or presentation and event space.

In addition to layout, furnishings, and equipment, architects and designers can help non-profits transform space to better reflect the brand, mission, and cause. “As many high-profile nonprofits have learned, branding and perception is critical to attracting not only donors, but talent as well,” said Gordon. Similar to the for-profit world, volunteers and employees at a non-profit must feel in sync with the organization’s mission and brand, and one of the best ways to do this is by experiencing and living the brand and its persona, day in and day out, while working in the office. Interior branding also plays a role when people visit the office and can see first-hand what it represents and the mission it serves.

When considering work with a nonprofit, realize that the organization’s goals and objectives are very similar to companies in the for-profit space. In the end, the design and layout of each workplace goes a long way to attracting the people that best serve the group and its mission, as well as supporting and optimizing its day-to-day operations. As architects and designers consult and work with these organizations, the groups will achieve the same advantages from innovative, efficient, and healthy interior environments as their counterparts in the for-profit world.

Roger Marquis, Assoc. AIA, is business-development director for Spacesmith, New York (spacesmith.com), and a former entrepreneur committed to serving the needs of clients in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. He writes and speaks frequently on trends in architecture and design services, including building and maintaining long-term client relationships.

Comments are closed.