12.22.2006

The Importance of Place

The place where I worked for ten years and where I am now on the board
is a small non-profit with an annual budget far south of $2 million.
Yet it boasts an incredible and historic facility valued at well north
of $2 million. The church I have attended for ten years is in a
similar situation, with an annual budget well south of $500,000 and an
ornate building over a hundred years old.

It is easy to wonder what a business-focused non-profit or a Christian
church are doing focusing so much mental and fiscal resources on such
non-essential things as building maintenance and janitorial services
and roof repairs. Indeed, I would encourage start-up non-profits and
churches to avoid making huge investments in buildings, because all
too quickly your mission can be decided on by your building instead of
the other way around.

However, if you do have a great facility, as these two organizations
do, you might as well make the most of it. And while we can
quantifiably see the cost of upkeeping a big and old building, we can
also tangibly reap the benefits of having space. The non-profit, for
example, hosts events of all types and sizes, creating a buzz about
its work that far exceeds any marketing efforts we could otherwise
generate. The church also hosts events and is home to two other
congregations, making the physical plant a place of spiritual mingling
and Christian community.

So while we ought not measure the success of our organizations by the
magnificence of our structures - not when far more spiritually vibrant
gatherings in poorer countries meet in shacks - we also ought not
discount too deeply the importance of place in helping our
organizations achieve their missions. Especially when it comes to
bringing people together, there's no substitute for a place that comes
to symbolize more than four walls and a plot of land.

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