Housing / Nonprofit Sector

Announcing BEACoN: Building Equitable Assets for Communities and Nonprofits

November 15, 2023
Headshot of Aisha standing outside in front of green bushes wearing a terra cotta colored blazer

Imagine a world where all communities have the power to pursue their aspirations. Where all communities have the capital to invest in things their residents desire. And where all communities control the assets that make them valuable and unique. 

That’s the world that NFF envisions. And we’re determined to make that vision a reality for communities – especially communities of color that are working tirelessly to overcome centuries of racism and disinvestment that block them from achieving it.  

That’s why we’ve launched a new initiative to help communities gain control of assets – such as land, buildings, and facilities – that help them build wealth and power.   

Photo of Sure We Can's sign behind a pile of recyclables in plastic bags.
Sure We Can provides essential services for its Brooklyn community, from recycling services to arts programs to much-needed income.

When communities control these assets, whether through a community-based nonprofit, a community land trust, coop, or other form of local ownership, they can direct the use of these assets to anchor and invest in the needs and desires of communities. Asset ownership also builds wealth, which communities can reinvest into additional desired projects. 

In contrast, when institutions outside of a community purchase these assets, they frequently treat it as an investment vehicle with little regard for the needs and aspirations of the community. Too often, when external institutions gain control of assets in a community, the community suffers: the new owners inflate property values and rents beyond what residents and local businesses can afford, pricing them out of the neighborhood. Too often, the financial system erects racist and inequitable barriers that make this sort of speculation easy – and financing community-owned assets more challenging. 

As an organization that’s part of this financial system – and one with the privilege of deciding where our capital flows – we have a duty to change it. We want to help communities and the nonprofits that anchor them build power by controlling their own assets.  

That’s why we’ve launched a new program: Building Equitable Assets for Communities and Nonprofits (BEACoN). Through BEACoN, we will support community-centered nonprofits in their efforts to acquire the assets that contribute to community prosperity.  

Why community-centered nonprofits?

NFF has long focused on community-centered nonprofits in its financing and consulting work. We define these organizations as those who hold themselves accountable to their communities by soliciting and incorporating their feedback into services and involving them in the organizations’ governance. 

For too long, these organizations have been counseled against acquiring assets like land or facilities. NFF was among the voices offering this counsel, knowing that the tremendous amount of work involved in facility ownership could take time and attention away from programmatic work. While owning land or a facility does require a significant capacity investment, we now recognize that it's capacity well-spent – that nonprofits can leverage these assets to build wealth and power for their organizations and their communities. 

For example: 

  • Sure We Can is a Brooklyn-based nonprofit recycling center serving the local community through recycling, composting, gardening, and arts. They have operated out of the same facility for years, and by creating jobs, investing in the arts, and launching programs, have established themselves as an institution in their community. Supported by an acquisition loan from NFF, in 2023 Sure We Can achieved a long-held dream of owning their facility. With property ownership securing its place in the community, Sure We Can plans to process harder-to-recycle materials, implement green infrastructure projects, expand its workforce, and pursue further avenues for community governance.   

  • Sierra House offers housing, educational programs, and community services to people experiencing homelessness across the city of East Orange in the greater Newark area. When the organization was licensed as a developer by the government of East Orange, it was determined to invest in properties that served the community without attracting outside speculative investment that might displace residents. Sierra House purchased a previously vacant property from the city that it is transforming into affordable housing for East Orange residents. NFF recently announced a partnership with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help more New Jersey nonprofits like Sierra House make similar facility acquisitions. 

  • Pangea World Theater puts on productions that center the stories of immigrants and people of color. They had long wanted to purchase the Minneapolis theater that they perform from to ensure a permanent place in their community. NFF consultants supported Pangea early on as they envisioned what expanded impact might look like, including eventually owning a building to counter gentrification and become a permanent cultural anchor for their community. NFF provided coaching to Pangea’s leaders and worked with them to build a multi-year budget as a foundational step toward this vision. 

Entrance of Sure We Can, full of bags, bottles, and cans.
Sure We Can had long wanted to own their facility so they could ensure a permanent place in their community.

When they acquire assets in their communities, nonprofits like Sure We Can, Sierra House, and Pangea World Theater can do all of this and more.  

They establish permanent roles in the communities they serve as providers of jobs and services. They take property off the speculative market, stabilizing property values and rent. They invest in their buildings and other community spaces, reducing systemic vacancy in neighborhoods and promoting identity and belonging. They can redevelop blighted or underutilized assets for housing or critical community services. And they can use their facilities as public spaces where community members can come together around events or programs.  

In the best cases, community ownership of facilities promotes business or community corridors where pioneering owners spur neighbors to pursue ownership as well. And together, with residents, they counter displacement across their communities. 

In addition, community-centered nonprofits that acquire assets in their communities can make investments in their own sustainability and long-term success. For example, an organization that owns its own building no longer has to fear eviction or displacement from rising rents, and can ensure that it can provide essential programs to its community for years to come. 

BEACoN: How Nonprofit Finance Fund Can Help Your Nonprofit Acquire Assets

Many nonprofits don't have the reliable revenue or balance sheet that makes asset ownership possible. Thanks to systemic racism, a disproportionate number of the nonprofits blocked from accessing capital and building reliable revenue streams are those led by people of color.  And when these nonprofits can’t access funding that would support asset acquisition, they lose a valuable opportunity to generate community wealth and power. 

NFF’s financing and consulting can play a role in breaking this cycle. Our client services staff is hearing an increased need from nonprofits to understand the range of possibilities for facility acquisition and how to plan for it from a project and enterprise perspective. Through BEACoN, NFF will explore how our lending products can support asset ownership by nonprofits led by people of color, and how our consulting services can provide tailored support to organizations in planning for the opportunities and risks of asset acquisition.  

Here’s what BEACoN could look like: 

  • Offering an acquisition loan to a nonprofit whose physical presence in a community is critical to its success 

  • One-on-one consulting on how to finance the purchase of land that a nonprofit plans to develop 

  • Providing a nonprofit with resources they can use to advocate to funders about why investing in asset ownership is critical for their community’s success and can be financially supported 

  • Financial and consulting support for a cooperatively owned grocery store that supports local food businesses and promotes food security 

  • Financing and related services to help a community land trust develop permanently affordable housing for long-term residents at risk of displacement 

  • ...and so much more! We’re excited to see how this program evolves with the needs of the communities we serve. 

A colorful sign reads "218 McKibbin St"
With support from an NFF loan, Sure We Can was able to achieve their long-held dream: purchasing their McKibbin St. facility.

By supporting community-centered nonprofits as they pursue asset ownership, we hope to address both persistent funding issues and racial equity issues. Community-centered asset ownership is a tool in closing the wealth gap in communities of color. Nonprofits that are financially secure can provide jobs for diverse residents, retain local ownership of critical community assets, and invest in neighborhood stability and wealth.  

For too long, assets have been extracted from communities. It’s time that communities regain control of the assets that make them so valuable, and build the wealth and power that they need to achieve their greatest aspirations.  

 If you’re a nonprofit interested in financing or consulting to support asset ownership, visit the Financing or Consulting pages of our website. 

If you’re interested in funding our work to help nonprofits purchase and control real estate and other assets, visit the Fund or Invest page of our website

We hope you’ll join us!