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Can’t find those operating budget funds? You have great grant-funded projects, but you can’t keep the lights on in your administrative building? Operating support can be difficult to attract and then to maintain for your organization, especially when dollars are tight in your main mission field.

What you can do, without changing your mission or turning the lights out, is access different specialty pools of funds for “greening” your business, or be creative by greening (and as a result enhancing) the resources you already have at your disposal to attract new funding sources.



Green Buildings

While you may know that there are funding opportunities for incorporating LEED buildings into businesses, you may be turned off by the stringent criteria for them and the high price tags. Try toning it down! Incorporate a LEED bathroom into your museum renovation, or a LEED pavilion into your parks project. The EPA mines national and state opportunities for building grants to help get you started. The energy savings will permanently reduce your operating budget.

On a local note, more and more municipal and city governments, community foundations, and local green contractors are developing partnership programs to provide assistance and resources to help nonprofits and businesses go green to boost the local economy sustainably.

For example Southface, in partnership with Atlanta foundations, has a “Grants to Green” program to help nonprofits in the city and 23 surrounding counties improve efficiency that also cuts their operating budgets.  Do a quick search to see what kinds of opportunities are available to you in your metro area!

Also read: Promoting Your Nonprofit Locally – 7 Steps

Community Garden: Natives or Agriculture

Do you have a grassy lawn that you pay someone to mow, a flat terrace area, or even an oversized parking lot that you never fill? You could give that space back to nature with a native plant garden or use it for productive organic agriculture. Ask your volunteers about their gardening skills and put together a small garden corps to get you started. You can follow any number of start-up guides, and both local and national resources abound.

Either choice could help your operating budget by:

  • Giving you something to sell: either native shrubbery and trees or fresh produce.
  • Reducing the hours of your contracted lawn crew.
  • Involving a different set of volunteers, and hence attracting new attention for future support to your organization.
  • Attracting direct grant support by integrating the program into your mission-based work. Gardening can fit into a wide scope of seemingly unrelated missions and attract new funding. For examples, if you are a small art museum, you could incorporate sculpture into your native plant garden, or if you are a women’s shelter, a tomato garden could give temporary residents a source for empowerment and healing while also providing a fresh and cheap food source for their meals.

Alternative Transportation

Most nonprofits constantly struggle to find operating support for transportation. Ditch the “use your personal car and charge miles” model and provide green transportation options for employees. Here are a few ideas:

  • Green ride: More and more metropolitan areas have shared transportation systems or shuttles established to avoid renting cars or using personal vehicles. New York City’s Go Green Ride offers free wifi while being transported in a green car to your destination, for example.  You can also rent green cars from mainstream rental chains and car pool for meetings farther than 50 miles from your office.
  • Bikes or moto scooters: While not all employees will have the physical ability or time to ride a company bike to appointments, most could ride a motor scooter. Calculate that a scooter might be a $2,000 investment, but with a 100 MPG rating or higher, your return on investment will be less than a year. (Or you could purchase an electric scooter to have no gas cost.)
  • Buy a green car: If your local ground transportation budget is more than $10,000 a year, you would save significantly in your 3-5 year plan by buying a hybrid or electric car. Appeal to a local car dealer to give you a discount as a tax-deductable donation. You could also sell sponsorship of the car to local corporations and paint their names on your new vehicle to pay for maintenance!

Also read: Advantages of Small Nonprofits

Recycle and Reuse

Seemingly old junk lying around your office can be repurposed to save on your decorating and miscellaneous budget costs.

  • Create artisan products with trash: Instead of buying new trash receptacles, for instance, try restructuring paint cans into metal sheets with a hammer and quick soldering them into trash bins! You can paint them with left over oil or spray paint. Get a local high school shop class involved if metal working is out of your volunteers’ skill range.
  • Stop buying paper towels: Turn an old tablecloth into 10-20 hand towels for your bathrooms with some fabric dye (to hide stains) and a bit of thread (for hems). You could use an old curtain as well.
  • Create a bottle cap art mural: Instead of purchasing expensive wall prints, contract a school group or girl scouts troop to make a bottle cap mural. Place a bin next to your soda/bottled water machine for cap collection!

Partner with a Green Neighbor

For all of these projects or countless others unique to your local area and your particular mission, you can attract more support for your organization by partnering with a green neighboring nonprofit.

  • Get them to write you into their grants: If you offer your big lawn for a community garden, a local horticulture group might want to partner with you for your space and particular prestige, or just because advancing community gardens is their mission. Asking them to write you into their larger grant ask to “develop 5 new community gardens” would pay for all of your costs!
  • If you do not know where to get started: Network with local green nonprofits that have large member bases or good community images to see what they are trying to accomplish. Maybe they have a fantastic civic engagement clean up initiative to renovate your grounds, or maybe they just need an events space. You can probably work together in some capacity, however, expanding your community reach to attract more members or operating support in the meantime.

If you are struggling to meet your operating budget needs, and want to decrease your ever inflating operating budget, attracting new funding in the process, green whatever space and systems you have! You will also improve your social image to the community and ease your consumer conscious in the process.

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