Serving the Unique Real Estate Needs of Not-for-Profits

By David Lebenstein

Not-For-Profits’ Unique Real Estate Needs

In our practice, when we speak of not-for-profit organizations we break them down into eight groups: education and schools; arts and culture; housing and social services; religious institutions; community; healthcare; government; foundations; and labor and trade unions. Each of these groups have unique needs, missions, financial structures, decision-making processes, etc. Understanding these intricacies is essential for us to provide the expert counsel that our clients seek from us. Cushman & Wakefield understands this, which is why we have dedicated a specialty practice group to the sector.

Not-for-profits aren’t traditional office clients. A school may require special high ceilings for a gymnasium, or space for a cafeteria. A medical center may have special storage needs for medications, extra wide elevators for stretchers, or require special zoning. Sometimes the challenge is just a matter of finding landlords willing to accept our clients as tenants – let’s be honest, not every landlord wants a homeless shelter or an addiction center in their buildings.

Navigating Not-For-Profit Decision Making

One of the biggest challenges we face when advising our clients is the uniqueness of their decision-making structures. Unlike many traditional business clients, where decisions are made by a principal or a core group of executives, a not-for-profit may require buy-in from staff, a board, the foundations who provide sources of funding, government agencies, and others. Our role as advisers is to bring understanding of the complex issues involved and the options available, so that the key people can come to some kind of consensus based on the facts at hand.

Real Estate’s Role in a Not-For-Profit’s Mission

Beyond the structural differences between not-for-profits and typical office clients, the difference that I take most to heart is the fact that these are mission-based organizations. They exist for a singular purpose, to serve some unmet or underserved need in society. They also typically operate with slim margins, constrained budgets, and every dollar spent on operations is a dollar not spent on serving their essential mission. Developing an expertise of, say commercial condominium, or the various tax incentives available for non-profits, or areas that the city has designated for a specific cultural or community use, or unique tax structures that might be available, like leasehold condos, enables us as brokers to provide the kind of counsel that directly impacts the success of the mission.

Recruiting Younger Brokers to Not-For-Profit Work

As a broker, the decision to focus on not-for-profits comes with its own challenges. For one, these transactions frequently take longer to close than a typical office deal, sometimes 2-3 years or longer. The commissions are typically not as large. But the payoffs are much bigger than just our commissions. There is an inexpressible level of fulfillment that comes from providing the expertise that helps an organization better provide the kind of service that strengthens the fabric of our society. This reward cannot be underestimated. Don’t get me wrong, we still make a great living and just because we’re serving not-for-profits doesn’t mean we work like volunteers. But we aren’t dealing with multi-billion dollar businesses. We’re frequently working with low-margin, short-staffed, underfunded, financially challenged organizations, who nonetheless pour their hearts and souls into serving the people of our city. But it feels good to help them!

To learn more about how CRESCO, Greater Cleveland’s leading commercial real estate company, can help you with your property needs, contact us at 216.520.1200, or fill out the form below. A CRESCO professional will contact you shortly.