Road Maps to the Future for Chebeague’s Nonprofits: Sharing Lessons Learned from The Recompense Fund


One of the great challenges facing many nonprofit organizations today is to anticipate the current and future physical needs of their aging facilities. Looking ahead at future capital spending helps avoid unhappy surprises, build better budgets, and make the case for financial support from funding sources.


The questions are simple, if daunting, “Do we have $50,000 or $250,000 in needs now and down the road? Do we have ten years, or five years, to prepare?” Such questions prompted the Rec Center (CRC) and the Kids' Place, last year, to undertake capital needs assessments (CNAs) of their wonderful but aging physical plants.


The CRC Board is most thankful to the Recompense Fund for financial support in undertaking its CNAs. They will provide comprehensive road maps for the current and future boards. Knowing what lies ahead gives the CRC confidence in its ability to plan.  Here’s how a CNA works.


A capital needs assessment (CNA), is a process of inventorying a property’s major systems-site, exterior and interior architectural components, and mechanical systems- heating, cooling, plumbing, electrical, life safety etc. (More sophisticated studies address energy and handicap accessibility issues also). It entails an assessment of the systems’ current condition and a projection of when they will need to be replaced or rebuilt, based on industry-standard useful life assumptions and actual conditions on site. It includes a projection of the costs associated with those capital actions, usually in current and inflated terms.


CNA reports typically are comprised of both summary and detailed spreadsheet presentations (extending over 15-20 year horizons), narrative presentations that track the spreadsheets, and photographic documentation. Together, they represent a road map of future capital spending.


They are most effectively undertaken by contracting with experienced CNA professionals; they typically have architectural and/or engineering expertise, capital planning experience, and an established model for conducting and presenting their work. Not all CNA contractors offer it but many organizations find that an essential part of the process is an interactive review of a preliminary report. It helps lay people better understand what they have, how things work, and what their options are.


CNAs are now a fairly well established line of work for several local architectural and engineering firms (and many more across New England). Anyone considering the process should ask for a sample report - you really want a clear presentation that makes sense to your readers. One would do well to interview the firms under consideration - in person and on-site ideally, but by phone at least. Again, a joint review is strongly recommended as part of the scope of work. (CRC board members were quite happy with their experience with CWS Architects, a local firm). The price range for a typical CNA is $2,500 - $5,000, depending on size and complexity; there are often favorable economies of scale gained in packaging up several assignments at once.


We are ready to share our experience with other Chebeague nonprofits.


Sandi Whiston, President, the Chebeague Recreation Center