Girls Incorporated (Girls Inc.) is a national organization with a mission to "inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold." The Alameda County affiliate of this nonprofit supports underserved girls, providing research-based programming to empower them at every stage of their development.1 In 1991, the affiliate moved its operations to a converted warehouse in San Leandro, California. By the mid-2000s, the organization was outgrowing this space, with administrative staff needs pushing programs off-site. The location itself was problematic -- the affiliate sought to serve girls from the neighboring city of Oakland, but public transportation to the San Leandro site was lacking. Plus, local leaders saw a need to increase and diversify revenue and believed that a better facility would allow the organization to attract new donors.
In 2008, Girls Inc. made a decision to move -- initiating a process that led to renovation and occupancy of a historic downtown Oakland office building in 2013. Through this facility, named the Simpson Center for Girls, the organization planned to expand and improve on-site programming and increase visibility. The project team engaged girls from the Oakland community as well as staff members, external consultants, and the affiliate's board of advisors to develop a design that was both accessible and inspiring to girls. In its first semester of operations, Girls Inc. welcomed 265 girls to the Simpson Center -- far surpassing its goal of 50 program participants. The facility's high-quality, girls-focused design communicates the organization's belief in empowerment, and contributes to positive self-perception and behavior among program participants. Meeting and conference spaces also help new local partnerships to blossom -- elevating the affiliate's profile in Oakland and throughout the region.
The project began with studies that enabled Girls Inc. to assess and plan for a move thoughtfully. While leaders anticipated increased operating and maintenance costs in a new facility, as well as debt payments resulting from financing a capital project, first year expenses exceeded projections and created risk. Girls Inc. is mitigating the financial consequences of the move by generating tenant and event revenues in the Simpson Center, and by using this new facility as an asset to grow its donor base.
While Girls Inc. is continuing to hone its economic model in the new site, the move to a location that is accessible, attracts and serves more girls in need, and appeals to donors has allowed the organization to become more relevant to its region and more capable of fulfilling its mission.
This case study is based on research conducted by MASS Design Group in September 2015. Funded by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, this case illustrates how organizations can address financial risks while investing in capital projects that advance their programs, partnerships, and fundraising potential.