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Organizational Management

How to Set Up a Nonprofit Office Space on a Shoestring Budget

Author: Terry Ibele
October 11, 2017
🕑 8 min read

The conditions I’ve heard some small nonprofits put up with is the stuff of nightmares:

  • No heat in the winter, no air conditioning in the summer
  • Broken furniture, mold in the ceiling
  • Washrooms with a five-step process on getting the toilet to flush.

One association I knew had a problem with stray cats getting in through a hole in the wall and camping on top of their filing cabinets.

If you’re living in your own nightmare, starting a new nonprofit, or just looking to upgrade your office space, furniture, supplies, computer equipment, or software, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article I’ll cover:

Or, if you’re just starting your nonprofit and want a little more information, check out our video:

Where to Find the Cheapest Office Spaces Available in Your Area

What’s the reason you’re staying in your current office space?

  • Was it donated?
  • Is it the only place you think will fit your budget?
  • Have you just always been there?

If you’re open to moving spaces, there are a number of websites similar to Airbnb that specialize in finding inexpensive, furnished office spaces with all the amenities (internet, fax machines, washrooms, etc.) in whatever city you operate in.

Here’s how it works:

First, determine the exact type of office space and furnishings you’ll need to be comfortable:

  • How many desks, computers, fixtures, couches, or supplies do you need?
  • Do you need parking?
  • Do you need TV screens, a whiteboard, a chalkboard, etc.?
  • Do you need an ensuite kitchen, a waiting room, etc.?
  • How many days or months do you need the space for?
  • Pet friendly? Phone access? Mailbox services? Printer? Storage? Other special requirements?

Next, search the listings in one of the following websites to find the best place for you:

  • Breather: Great for workshops, events, and offsites .
  • Compass: Lists local shared workspaces.
  • Craigslist or Kijiji: Search through local listings.
  • LiquidSpace: Find single working spaces for as low as $25/month.
  • MeetingsBooker: search venues ideal for conferences, workshops, and events.
  • Ofixu: Offices, spare desks, meeting rooms, creative spaces, coworking spaces, and more.
  • PivetDesk: temporary offices, shared spaces, and private office space for nonprofits.
  • Qdesq: find any type of workspace around the world.
  • ShareDesk: find any type of workspace.

Here are two more great resources specifically for nonprofits to find inexpensive or free office spaces. Here they are:

Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

What You Need to Run Your Nonprofit from Home

Depending on what types of services you offer, you may not need a physical office space, which can save you a lot of money.

The Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL) is a 400-member organization that does this. They operate entirely out of volunteers’ homes.

The writing association I’m a member of has nearly two thousand members and operates entirely from a single desk in a shared office space. The only other fixtures are a phone, and a filing cabinet. For member meetings, they rent a room (for free) at a local library.

While not as glamorous as a large office complete with cubicles, meeting rooms, and a reception area, these nonprofits have been very resourceful with what they have.

If you choose to run your organization from home, you will still likely need to setup a PO Box to accept mail.

A PO Box can cost anywhere from $50 per year to a $1,000 depending on your location and the size you need. Here are instructions on how to rent a PO Box in your area (for Canadian PO Boxes click here).

Another thing to watch out for is separating home expenses from the nonprofit’s expenses. While you may be able to claim certain office supplies like ink, or stamps, you may not be able to claim deductions for the use of your house and furniture.

Lastly, you need to consider your home environment. Pets and kids can be major distraction, potentially standing in the way of productivity. Here are some tips on working from home with kids.

Read More: A Guide to Remote Working for Nonprofits

Free Best AMS Software Nonprofit Office Space

Where to Find Free or Discounted Office Furniture and Computer Equipment

There are a number of organizations that donate or offer discounts on furniture and computer equipment for nonprofits. Here they are:

  • Cisco: Apply to their Product Grant Program
  • Computer Recycling Center: fill out a request for computer equipment.
  • CSR Eco Solutions: a global social enterprise managing the redistribution of redundant assets on behalf of corporations, government institutions and healthcare facilities.
  • A place where people post computer equipment they don’t need anymore.
  • a marketplace where people post furniture and supplies they have to donate.
  • Good 360: a place where companies donate products to nonprofits.
  • GreenStandards: sign up to receive gently-used office furniture and equipment donations delivered right to your door.
  • gives out nonprofit computer grants.
  • a nonprofit recycling and reuse network — this can be a great place to find free computers for nonprofits.

Other Great Places to Look (not specifically for nonprofits):

  • Craigslist: The largest classified advertisement website. Search for people selling (or giving away) furniture and computer equipment in your locality.
  • Kijiji: Kijiji is the Canadian version of Craigslist
  • Overstock sells surplus and returned furnishings as well as new items for less than wholesale cost online. You can find especially good deals if you search their clearance section.
  • Furniture Stores That Sell Floor Models: Sometimes furniture stores will let go of floor models for a large discount. The only way to find out is to ask.
  • Goodwill, The Salvation Army, or other thrift stores.
  • IKEA: IKEA is the gold standard of inexpensive furniture. I’ve also heard some locations donate furniture to eligible nonprofits. While this may not be true everywhere, it’s worth getting in touch with your nearest location.

4 Places to Find Free or Discounted Nonprofit Software

Before you purchase software for your organization, check to see if you can get it for free or a discount. Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Contact TechSoup, an organization that distributes software to nonprofits for free or a discount.
  2. Browse this list of 199 free or cheap software tools for nonprofits.
  3. Contact the software provider’s sales staff. Often companies provide a discount for registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits.
  4. Join or donate to the Free Software Foundation.

How to Get a Great Logo, Business Cards, Banners, and T-shirts for under $100

While designing the look of your organization can be fun, don’t spend a single cent on business cards, banners, t-shirts, or any other marketing collateral until you’re fully incorporated and are ready to start getting members, sponsors, and donors. I know of a nonprofit startup that went broke from purchasing marketing collateral before they even got incorporated.

However, once your organization is setup and ready to go, arming your staff, board, and volunteers with business cards, t-shirts, and other materials can be a great way to help spread the word about your organization.

If you’ve already got a logo design in mind, but don’t have the design skills, there are a number of places that offer inexpensive design. If you don’t have a logo in mind yet, I suggest browsing this list of the 75 best nonprofit logos to get some ideas.

So, when you’re ready, here are some easy ways to get great-quality designs and materials printed (cheaply).

The cheapest way to get a good logo is to head on over to Fiverr, where you can purchase a custom-designed logo for $5 or more. Simply select what type of logo design you’d like and then select your budget and Fiverr will introduce you to a number of designers willing to design within your budget (If you need more information on setting up your brand identity, Logaster has put together a full guide on how to do this).

If you’ve got more of a budget (~$300), you can create a logo design competition for your nonprofit over on 99designs, where designers will compete to create the best logo for you. In order to get a good competition going, here’s a great guide to getting started.

You can also use Fiverr and 99designs to design any other graphical content you need like business cards, or t-shirts.

And if you’re looking to print materials, the cheapest option is VistaPrint, which frequently has sales, but also offers discounts for nonprofits (email them to find out about their nonprofit discounts). Even without the nonprofit discount, you can get:

With a budget of just $100, you can get a logo, 100 business cards, a few t-shirts and a banner for your organization to setup right away. Of course you’ll need to have everything shipped somewhere, so in the next section on how to start a nonprofit, I’ll show you how to get your nonprofit an address for $50.

How Association Management Software Can Save Your Organization Time and Money

Association Management Software, also known as AMS, is an all-in-one management tool comprised of a website builder, online contact database, communications system (email), finance & payment system, event platform, and more.

If you run any sort of association, nearly all your administrative work can be eliminated by AMS, which can:

  • Instantly process online payments, fees, and donations.
  • Setup online event registration pages, payments, and reminders.
  • Improve member communication through automated invoices, emails, and newsletters.
  • Give you a professional, easy to build website where you can host a news section, notices,
  • resources, member directory, an event calendar and more.
  • Maintain a full contact database that’s easy to search, filter, and update.
  • Provide you with financial reports, analytics, and membership summaries in seconds.
  • Save your organization money and time by automating many more administrative tasks.

Try This Association Management Software Free

WildApricot is one of the highest rated AMS tools. Every day over 7,000 associations use WildApricot to completely manage their associations.

Start your free trial of WildApricot now. In just an afternoon you can have a full website and contact database setup to begin communicating with your residents and tracking their payments.

“WildApricot has been a lifesaver for our association. It saves us at least 15-30 hours of work every time we have an event. It’s simple to send email blasts, track payments, and keep in touch with former members who may have drifted away.”

– Diane Herrick, Conference Chair, KY Association for Psychology in the Schools

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