Building a Team: Roles and Responsibilities for Nonprofit Facilities Projects May 24, 2023

Resources nonprofit leaders can use

IFF has helped more than 1,100 nonprofits create mission-driven facilities optimized for their needs, and we’re making a concerted effort in 2023 to share some of the learnings we’ve accrued along the way. To access past content designed to provide nonprofit leaders with foundational knowledge needed to successfully complete facility projects, click here. If there’s a question that we haven’t addressed before that you’d like to know the answer to, we want to know! Email, and we’ll do our best to cover the topic in a future piece.

Facilities projects are complex endeavors, requiring a variety of skillsets and extensive coordination from start to finish to ensure that projects proceed as planned, on budget, and on time. Supporting the process is a project team composed of specialized experts, each of whom play a role in moving facilities projects from initial concept to reality.  

For nonprofit leaders who haven’t been involved in such projects, the number of consultants, contractors, and vendors required to successfully transition to a new building that meets the organization’s needs can be dizzying at first. And it’s not always clear at the outset who will ultimately need to serve on the project team or the role each member will play along the way.   

With this in mind, we’ve compiled an overview of who’s typically included on project teams, broken out by the standard phases of facilities projects. It’s important that project teams be composed with the nonprofit’s goals in mind. Certain roles will be needed for every type of project, but the ultimate composition of the team should reflect each project’s unique goals.   

The list below identifies where each member of the project team typically enters the project, but certain roles – like the architect and the owner’s attorney – will almost certainly be involved with the project through multiple phases.   

Click the project roles below to expand the section and learn how each role contributes to facilities projects.


During the feasibility stage, an assessment is conducted to determine whether a proposed project will fulfill the organization’s objectives.

Real Estate/Construction Consultant

Assessing the feasibility of a potential nonprofit facilities project requires both specialized real estate and construction expertise, as well as a broad-based understanding of budgeting, nonprofit operations, and more. There typically isn’t someone on staff who has this mix of expertise, or the bandwidth required to complete a feasibility study, which is why many nonprofit facilities projects begin in earnest by engaging a real estate/construction consultant to lead the feasibility assessment.   

This consultant – like IFF’s real estate team – gains an understanding of the organization’s vision, then begins to define what’s needed to bring the vision to fruition. That includes determinations about how much space is needed, how much it will cost to complete the project, and whether the nonprofit has the capacity needed to successfully execute the project, among other examples.   

Site Search

During the site search phase, potential properties and/or facilities are identified that meet the criteria established by the organization.


When the time comes to find a property and/or facility that’s suitable for the project the organization intends to proceed with, a real estate broker is a necessity. The real estate consultant engaged for the feasibility phase may be able to identify potential properties as an initial step that informs the site search process, but a broker with access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) who’s able to easily gain access to properties for showings leads to a smoother, more efficient search.   

Due Diligence

During the due diligence phase, project details, financials, and the property and/or facility identified during the site search are interrogated closely to mitigate as much risk as possible for an eventual project.


As part of the acquisition process, oftentimes a surveyor is needed to ensure that the boundaries of the property are firmly established so that title insurance can be secured. 

Environmental Engineer

For organizations using financing to acquire a property and/or facility, environmental reports are a must-have for lenders to understand the environmental risk associated with the loan. These reports are completed by environmental engineers contracted by the borrower who assess the site for potential hazardous materials, such as old underground storage tanks that pose environmental risks. If the environmental engineer determines that the site may be contaminated, they’ll often need to complete additional reporting before financing is extended to the organization to complete the acquisition of the property and/or facility.  

Geotechnical Engineer

Geotechnical engineers sample soil and evaluate the properties of the soil to determine what can be built on the site. If the organization’s project will renovate an existing facility without substantially changing its essential characteristics, a geotechnical engineer isn’t likely to be needed. If, however, the organization intends to build a new facility or drastically alter an existing facility on a site it has acquired, a geotechnical engineer will be needed to ensure that different areas of the site can adequately support the structure. Variables like sandy soil, hard clay, and level of the water table all influence how foundations are designed to support the building structure. Geotechnical engineers may be engaged later in the project after an architect is selected in support of site planning and design.  

Miscellaneous Contractors

Certain projects require specialized contractors to complete the due diligence phase, and the need for them is dictated entirely by the property in question and the project the nonprofit intends to complete. For example, a traffic study may be needed, which requires a contractor who specializes in such work. In an older building, hazmat testing for materials like lead or asbestos may be needed. The organization is responsible for hiring these members of the project team to ensure that the information received during the process is unbiased and that the member of the project team completing the work is fully accountable to the organization. This provides a needed degree of confidence that the characteristics of the site are documented accurately and appropriately before significant commitments of time and money are made. 


Once an organization decides to proceed with the acquisition or lease of a property and/or facility (assuming that’s necessary for the project), legal representation is needed to ensure that the lease or purchase agreement protects the nonprofit’s interests to the maximum degree possible. The real estate/construction consultant engaged for the feasibility study may be able to help inform the legal terms the organization ultimately seeks, but an attorney should be the member of the project team who actually negotiates those terms and reviews documents before the organization makes binding commitments.  


During the design phase, a vision for the property and/or facility is delineated, with decisions made about the form, function, and materials that will be used to bring the organization’s vision for the space to fruition.

Architecture and Engineering Firm(s)

One of the most important decisions for any facility project is determining who will lead the design phase, which is the responsibility of the architect. Supporting the design process is a team of specialized engineers who contribute to the drawing for the facility, with the architect responsible for pulling these professionals into the project as needed and serving as the overall project manager. In some cases, architecture firms have in-house engineering capabilities, meaning that only one firm needs to be hired by the organization completing the facility project.   

The core engineering team typically engaged by the architect include mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers; a civil engineer responsible for designing the exterior of the site and connecting it to municipal infrastructure; and a structural engineer responsible for ensuring that the structure being designed will be safe, stable, and able to withstand the loads required.   

Additional members can be included on the engineering team when unique circumstances call for specific specialized expertise. For an arts and culture nonprofit with a performance space, for example, an acoustical engineer might be needed. If the architect is not handling interior design personally, an interior designer is another example of a specialized professional who could be included as part of the project team. And, for certain projects, a landscape architect may be engaged for outdoor design on the site, though this is often a project team role that’s nice to have but not mandatory.   

The architect for the project (or the full engineering team) is responsible for deliverables during the design phase, but they also play an important role once projects move into the construction phase by evaluating whether the work that’s been laid out during the design process is being completed as planned.   

Low-Voltage Designer

A low-voltage designer handles security systems and audio/visual components of projects, among other examples, ensuring that the cabling in the building is sufficient to support the tenant organization’s needs. It’s ideal for the architect to contract a low-voltage designer and incorporate them into the engineering team, but it’s not uncommon for organizations completing facility projects to engage a low-voltage designer directly. 

Pre-Construction Services Manager

Pre-construction services managers are not included on every project team, but they can be an important resource by providing an added layer of oversight to the project. While architects are contractually obligated to adhere to the scope and budget for the project, the pre-construction services manager provides an assessment of the plans that takes into account current market conditions. By engaging a pre-construction services manager, organizations can mitigate the risk that there will be delays and/or unexpected increases in the cost of the project during construction.   

These professionals typically work with the facility owner or leaseholder and the architecture engineering team during the design phase to evaluate the plans and make sure that the design aligns with the project budget and timeline. To accomplish this, pre-construction services managers evaluate the “constructability” of the facility, assessing the architect’s drawings to determine whether they form a complete roadmap for the project, add unnecessary cost through overly complicated design, and if there are costs that need to be accounted for in the construction phase of the project based on the details of the design.   

For example, if hard-to-procure building materials are called for in the design of the facility, the pre-construction services manager would flag that during the design phase since it could potentially impact the expected completion date of the project. Or, if a certain building material is called for in the design, the pre-construction services manager can determine what the cost of using that material will be vs. potential alternatives. Another example of how the pre-construction services manager can add value to a project is by evaluating the complexity of the building process as determined by the design. More complexity in how buildings are constructed increases costs, and identifying simpler methods before construction begins can reduce the overall cost of projects.   

Owner’s Representative

The owner’s representative is an expert hired by the owner or leaseholder of a facility to manage the construction process on their behalf. Owner’s representatives serve as a liaison between the project team and the owner or leaseholder to ensure their interests are protected at each stage of the project. Common tasks for owner’s representatives include conducting site visits and analyses, managing the design process, working directly with prime contractors to execute the client’s vision, and project accounting and reporting, among other examples. They can be engaged for any period of time desired by the owner or lessee of the facility, depending on the organization’s needs, but offer the greatest impact to a project when engaged by the owner or lessee early in project planning.   


During the construction phase, the facility is built following the specifications settled upon during the design phase.

Construction Manager or General Contractor

Like the architecture and engineering team, the construction manager or general contractor for a facility project plays an outsized role in the ultimate success of the project as the member of the project team responsible for bringing the vision from the design phase to life. Construction managers and general contractors both hire specialized subcontractors (see section below) to complete the actual construction of the facility, but they work with the architecture and engineering team, and the organization paying for the project, in different ways.   

A general contractor takes the architecture and engineering team’s completed plans, puts together a team of subcontractors, and is not responsible for any flaws in the design plans once construction begins – which can have significant cost implications for the organization completing the facility project if changes are needed.   

A construction manager, on the other hand, is involved in the design process to identify potential flaws before construction begins – focusing on the cost of materials, labor, and timeline implications. While this doesn’t guarantee that costly changes won’t be required during the construction phase, it does typically mitigate the risk assumed by the facility owner/lessee by identifying those flaws much earlier in the process when it’s less complex and less costly to course correct.   


Subcontractors are hired by the general contractor or the construction manager to complete specific elements of the project during construction. Examples of subcontractors include electricians, masons, roofers, and painters, among others.   

While the general contractor or construction manager has a high degree of autonomy in selecting the subcontractors for the project, the owner or lessee of the facility can set parameters for the types of subcontractors who are hired. For example, mission-driven organizations like nonprofits that seek social impact through their work can require that a certain percentage of subcontractors hired for the project are veterans, women, or minority-owned businesses. A similar requirement can be implemented to ensure that local businesses are included in the project, which can be an effective strategy to build wealth in the communities in which nonprofits work.    

Construction Materials Testing Agency

A construction materials testing agency is responsible for verifying during construction that the materials used meet the required standard for strength and quality. Example of materials that are commonly tested are structural steel, masonry, and concrete. This member of the project team provides an important check on the quality of work completed by the general contractor or construction manager and the subcontractors they hire to build the facility, providing an unbiased opinion that protects the interests of the organization that is completing the facility project.  


During the post-construction phase, finishing touches are completed before the organization moves into the facility and begins operating out of the space.

Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment (FF&E) Vendors 

Furniture, fixtures, and equipment vendors deliver the materials needed for the organization who will occupy the building to use the space. Examples include tables and chairs, lamps, copy machines, kitchen equipment, etc. FF&E vendors should be engaged well before construction is completed to ensure that materials purchased can be delivered and installed soon after the building is finished.  

Commissioning Agent

A commissioning agent isn’t always included on project teams because of cost, but they can further mitigate the risk of unplanned expenses for the organization occupying the facility by confirming that building systems like heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) are installed correctly and functioning as they should. This added layer of accountability for the subcontractor who installed the HVAC system protects the building owner or lessee from unplanned expenses after moving into the building that are required to correct deficiencies. 

The information above provides an introduction to project teams for nonprofit facilities projects, but it’s not an exhaustive list. For more information, or to discuss any of the material in greater depth, please contact IFF’s real estate team.

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