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We don’t need to “own” it

August 19, 2014

For generations, the sign that your organization was “here to stay” was the acquisition of a physical structure to call home. You were no longer working from a home office or a rented facility… with the assumption that you could up and leave/close your business with just a few weeks notice. Now, because you had a building, you were permanent, a genuine part of the community.

I sense that mindset is changing and I believe there are multiple reasons. Perhaps others have noticed this trend already in urban contexts, but I am seeing the trend increasingly even in rural Alberta. Namely, for organizations (and individuals) to not need “ownership” of a property (land &/or building) in order to see themselves as a viable long-term entity in the community.

First, having the necessary capital, whether in a for-profit business or a non-profit organization, to make that first investment in a building takes a long time. Alongside that initial investment, there are continuing costs to owning a building that are substantially more than simply being a tenant (ie taxes, maintenance, sometimes utilities, insurance, etc).

Secondly, many non-profit organizations, almost by definition careful about finances, are realizing they would not utilize significant portions of the space they own 24-7. A church, for example, requires much of its operational space only on weekends and evenings. Likewise, an arts/dance program operates its programming largely from 4:00 pm til midnight and on weekends, as do sports teams. Thus, if there are facilities that are accessible during the non-profit organizations’ prime hours but opposite the building’s primary user hours, long-term leases prove beneficial to both parties.

Finally, there is the realization, especially from non-profits but also from businesses, that the definition of success never was based on a physical facility but simply because individuals were able to receive/benefit from some good or service offered in that location. If the same benefit can be received without ownership of a property, but rather resources can be invested in people or programs that connect with people, that is what truly matters. The money that could have been spent on the facility can be spent attempting to benefit more people.

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