Your non-profit space is affecting donors, staff, clients, and board

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Today, we’re focusing on a post that John titled “Admit the Effect“. In that post, he talks about how our behavior is a function of our environment, which means if you want a something different from your employees (or clients or board members or donors), then you might want to look at changing the physical work environment before you change the performance management plan.

The effect of space on donors

When I first became the executive director at the Boys & Girls Club, our administrative office was located downtown in an old building that still had kind elderly gentlemen operating the elevators. In an effort to save money, my predecessor rented an office on a floor that was under construction and our rent was greatly reduced to compensate for the inconvenience.

Within the first 18 months of being on the job, we conducted a resource development audit for evaluation purposes prior to writing the agency’s first resource development plan. As the consultant conducted confidential interviews with approximately 30 donors and supporters, it became very clear that our administrative space was a problem.

Donors were judging us based on that space, and their donations reflected it. Many donors openly expressed doubt that we’d ever be able to raise the necessary $3 million to build a new clubhouse facility. When asked why . . . many donors pointed to our administrative office and simply said they can’t even raise enough money now for modest office space.

Needless to say, we moved our administrative office because we wanted our donors to see us differently and we needed a different behavior . . . we needed them to participate in the capital campaign and invest in our future.  In other words, behavior is a function of our environment.

The effect of space on clients

The Boys & Girls Club clubhouse used to be a small 2,000 square foot house that must have been at least 75-years-old. The space was designed for a small family of four or five. It was never meant to be an after-school space for 50 to 75 kids. The computer lab was squeezed into the basement adjacent to the arts and crafts corner, which also doubled as a homework space when kids first arrived. Do I even need to tell you what it was like for those many kids to share a one toilet bathroom facility? Ugh!

I can remember being so frustrated whenever I’d visit the clubhouse because it always seemed like staff were dealing with behavior issues more than running the valuable after-school programming that I wanted and needed them to run. Don’t get me wrong. The staff did their best and always got the job done, but I oftentimes thought to myself: “Darn it! These kids don’t behave this way at school.”

Why was I surprised that those kids were putting their feet up on furniture and acting like they would as if they were at home after-school? I shouldn’t have been surprised because the house looked and felt like their home. It didn’t look for feel like school or any other institutional building that they’ve ever been in.

Today, the new 15,000 square foot Boys & Girls Club clubhouse is a reality. It is a testament to an engaged group of donors who invested in an organization’s future, and it is a beacon of hope for future generations of kids. I walked into the facility the other day, and my first reaction was: “Wow, these kids certainly act differently than I remember. As a matter of fact, the staff act differently, too.”  Duh . . . behavior is a function of our environment.

Have you ever changed the physical environment at your agency to get a different result? What message does your existing space send to your donors? Where do you host your board meetings and have you ever thought about changing the location to get a different result? Please use the space below to share a quick story. We can all learn from each other. If you haven’t clicked over to read John’s post “Admit the Effect,” I encourage you to do so now because it is really good.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. Hi Erik,

    I thought you’d want to know that as I was drafting “Admit the Effect” my thoughts did at one point graze by the vision of the earlier iterations of BGCE, both the offices and the club space … You do a nice job here or articulating the effects, which, clearly, are not inconsequential!

    You are doing really great work here, IMHO!

    1. Hey John . . . I am not surprised BGCE was on your mind when putting your post together. It is a classic example of the “form following function” principle in architectural terms and “behavior following environment” principle in organizational development terms.

      Thanks for the kind words, but you are the catalyst behind OD Fridays at DonorDreams blog. So, right back atcha! Thank You!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.