Nonprofits as infrastructure

An important idea and angle to a very real challenge, one that will be of growing importance: how do nonprofits and CBOs (Community-Based Organization) maintain and, when needed, scale their infrastructure to keep vital services going and respond to growing demand?

Neighborhoods across the country are struggling to keep up with demand for critical services. While the common response to this problem is to throw money at them (for the lucky nonprofits) or to do nothing (for the rest of them), we should instead think of nonprofits as infrastructure, and treat them accordingly.

Many of those organizations are perfectly able to manage their staff, resources, and programs but often do not have the financial backing to maintain and potentially expand the spaces they need. The author provides the example of CCCS in NYC who was limited purely by its space and un-paved parking, having to turn down donations.

Although CCCS has the programming and qualified staff in place, their infrastructure prevented them from meeting the demand in the community. Adequate investment in the organization’s programming and staffing is of course critical. However, it is the investment in upgrading their space that will allow their capacity to reach its full potential.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) offers a program they lets such organizations find the funding needed to grow and can help in the management of the real estate.

At NYCEDC, we currently manage more than 100 projects, representing $1 billion of city investment into nonprofit infrastructure projects that have a public benefit.

It sometimes feels like most government partnerships help private enterprise take less risk, initiatives like the NYCEDC program are actually perfectly placed for essential partnerships, but in support of citizen-led groups that support disenfranchised communities and help in the resilience of the city as a whole.

the reality is nonprofit infrastructure has been relied upon for decades to support people and societies to the same degree we rely upon roads for transportation. These organizations are anchors and connectors within their communities, offering social, cultural, and healthcare services and jobs. […]

Infrastructure is the physical embodiment of how our communities are knit together, and by virtue, our cities, states, and country. The CCCS and RUMC projects demonstrate the ripple effect that can be created when the government invests in nonprofit and community infrastructure.