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Non-profit organizations are typically more cost-sensitive than for-profit companies and usually have unique funding schedules and decision making processes that must be recognized and accommodated for.  Maximizing value and crafting flexible terms during an office relocation or lease renewal should be paramount to your real estate goals.

1. Hire a real estate advisor. Adding a seasoned real estate professional to your team is going to prove invaluable, as they help navigate your organization through the tricky waters of the commercial real estate leasing industry. They’ll also help to level the playing field when negotiating with landlords and their brokers, and they’ll do all the heavy lifting so you can spend your time focusing on your core business and furthering your organization’s mission.

Since leasing commissions are paid by the landlord, and NOT the tenant, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t access your right to professional representation. Remember, “a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Give preference to a broker who has board experience with non-profits, as they’ll understand important nuances and be able to structure the best deal for you. Also, don’t be shy – ask your broker to make a donation out of their real estate commission to your organization after the transaction is complete.

2. Don’t spend too much on rent. Foundations and donors carefully scrutinize your organization’s budget, and want to see that the majority of their money is being spent on the mission and not just your operational costs. After employee payroll, the office lease is typically the next biggest expense on your income statement. Therefore, slimming down your office rent is going to make your organization look more attractive to money sources while freeing up much appreciated liquidity.

Attracting and retaining top talent is important, so try and find the nicest space at the best cost and make sure you’re being mindful of how efficient the building you’re moving into is. A good rule of thumb is to identify properties where other non-profits have made their home, and then ask a few current tenants if they’re happy with their experience at that property.  Being around other non-profit organizations is also conducive to collaboration and strategic partnerships.

3. Align the lease with funding your schedules.  It is crucial that you make an assessment of your organization’s key funding dates and schedules, and then share that information with your broker so that they may structure an office lease that is not only congruent, but complimentary to your timing.

For example, if your largest grant is renewed every two years, then you want to ensure that there are strategies in place to respond to the unfortunate scenario of the potential discontinuation of that grant. The current stage of the real estate cycle, your leverage as a tenant, and the willingness of the landlord to work with you will all play key factors in what strategies are employed.

Should office rental rates be trending downwards, then an easy solution would be to simply make your lease coterminous with your funding schedules and include tenant friendly renewal terms. However, if rents are rising you’ll want to lock in a low rate and sign the longest lease your strategic plan will allow for, and then build in early termination clauses.  Another solution could be to negotiate terms that will give you the flexibility to be relocated within the ownership’s portfolio without penalty, should you need to downsize substantially.

4. Get free furniture.  One of the most unnecessary expenses upon moving is the cost of relocating existing or purchasing new office furniture.  If you’re relocating your office, give preference to “Plug & Play” subleases where the subtenant is allowed to acquire or simply use the existing furniture for no additional cost throughout the duration of the sublease.

If you have to leave furniture behind, consider donating it to another fellow non-profit, as the cost of disassembling, moving, and reassembling office furniture can sometimes cost almost as much as simply buying new office furniture anyways. If your new location does not have furniture, consider looking for used furniture. Not only will harmful VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) already be “off-gassed” which will help improve the indoor air quality of your new office, but many companies give away unwanted furniture to non-profits so as to benefit from the tax deduction.

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