Purpose Built: Making Capital Projects Work: Ten principles for success, illustrated with case study lessons

Jan 1, 2014

Capital projects can inspire and empower users, improve work processes and culture, and open doors to new revenue. They can strengthen the social and economic fabric of the communities where they stand. Some serve as powerful symbols of progress on a regional or national scale. Others catalyze larger systems change -- leading to new partnerships, demonstrating practices that can be adopted by others, or sparking policy shifts.

While many projects succeed in fulfilling their ambitions, others fall short of reaching their potential. The best results occur when a project is built with purpose -- grounded in a clear and strategic mission that informs design decisions, with a scope that matches what its organization can afford to build, operate, and maintain. Projects that fail to achieve this balance can cause harm, damaging a nonprofit's short- or long-term financial health, operating systems, culture, or public reputation. The Purpose Built principles can help project teams avoid common pitfalls and generate a greater return on investment in capital projects. This overarching report describes each principle, illustrated with lessons drawn from Purpose Built case studies.

About the Purpose Built Series: Capital projects often bring lasting benefits to nonprofit organizations and the people they serve. In the United States alone, foundations grant more than $3 billion per year to construct or improve buildings. To help these funders and their nonprofit partners make the most of capital projects, The Atlantic Philanthropies and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation commissioned Purpose Built -- a multi-faceted study by MASS Design Group, a nonprofit architecture and research firm. In 2015 and 2016, MASS conducted interviews, held workshops, reviewed literature, and examined a diverse set of complete projects around the world. Each project was supported by one of the above funders.