Bright Ideas Blog, Renewable Energy Strategy, Solar Projects

How to Solarize Your Nonprofit Organization


As the renewable energy industry, specifically solar, gains traction among the residential and commercial markets, a frequent topic of conversation is, “How can a nonprofit organization take advantage of solar energy?”

Although there are challenges associated with a nonprofit taking the solar journey, it is doable, and can be an essential piece of not just a nonprofit’s mission, but its marketing and community engagement strategies.  A solar array and monitoring system can measure energy/money saved, visually demonstrate the positive environmental impact of its use, and serve as an educational tool.

Why Take Your Organization Solar?

Powering your nonprofit organization with solar energy is a fantastic way to mobilize donors, supporters and the community at large. Solar is one of the issues that unites nearly all elements of the political spectrum – in a sense, everybody loves solar. If your organization’s mission naturally aligns with a commitment to clean energy, all the better. But even if it doesn’t, saving operational costs with solar is an idea any board of directors can get behind.

Solar energy for nonprofit organizations
The Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY, built a 15kW rooftop solar project that will help the organization expand its educational programs in the community and open a new exhibition gallery. (Courtesy: Everybody Solar; Photo credit: Renovus Solar)

How to Fund Your Nonprofit’s Solar Project

While there are a variety of ways nonprofit organizations can finance solar, there are three main routes to success:

Flexible Fundraising

Innovative Financing Models

Grants & Government Funding

These programs are accessible to nonprofits large and small. Ultimately, finding the right solar program is a collaborative endeavor involving a nonprofit’s board of directors, its donors, and staff – and can have lasting impact on the nonprofit and the mission it serves.

Method I: Flexible Fundraising

If you are a nonprofit exploring a successful solar project in this rapidly evolving sector, being open to unique fundraising channels can help you raise funds efficiently, as well as significantly expand your donor base.  This can be the ideal method for a high profile nonprofit with a large donor base, for example a church or community center such as the YMCA or The Boy/Girl Scouts.

Who’s doing it well:  Everybody Solar

Everybody Solar, based out of California but operating nationally, creates customized fundraising strategies to meet the unique fiscal challenges of its nonprofit partners. In the same way each solar project is different, so are the mission and goals of the nonprofits – and Everybody Solar understands this.

With this in mind, Everybody Solar works directly with the nonprofit to find its ideal fundraising model.  This could be a fundraising campaign to own a solar system for nonprofits that own their building/property, or a power purchase agreement (PPA) for nonprofits that do not or cannot own their building. You can see how a number of nonprofit organizations have taken advantage of the program here.

“We’re different, because our goal isn’t simply to help nonprofits go solar, but for the savings from the solar energy system to 100% benefit the nonprofits and their missions,” explains Youness Scally, Executive Director of Everybody Solar. “Once the solar system is installed for a nonprofit, they don’t have to pay us or anyone else anything. In other words, they get all of the savings and are able to apply those savings in a manner that best supports their mission.”

Additionally, as a nonprofit itself, Everybody Solar’s mission ensures that funds are directed to the solar project, and processing fees are minimized.

Traditionally, nonprofits have used programs like Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) to fund a third-party owned solar system, but not to own the system outright. If a nonprofit did want to pursue the route of ownership through a lender, it can be an uphill battle. Many times, lenders will not commit to a nonprofit due to the financial risk involved, and nonprofits shy away from complex application processes.  However, there are some notable exceptions.

Who’s Doing It Well: Collective Sun

Collective Sun’s approach simplifies the financing process, and creates a turnkey solution for a nonprofit to not only own its solar system, but to take advantage of the federal (ITC) tax credit and other incentives through Collective Sun’s unique programs.

Collective Sun’s flagship program is the Proprietary Crowd Lending Campaign, which as stated is a direct loan from supporters of the nonprofit or tax-exempt organization with principal and interest repaid annually using the savings from the solar project.  In essence, Collective Sun facilitates a loan from a nonprofit’s supporters, to be repaid via the organization’s energy savings; a win-win for both the nonprofit and its supporters.

While there may be other companies starting to replicate this model, Collective Sun remains the standard for financing a nonprofit solar project.

Method 3: Grants & Government Funding

If you are a nonprofit that has a staff or board member with grant writing experience, this may be the route for you. As communities are seeing the “dollars and sense” of solar technology, state and federal grants are being made available to keep up with this increased interest.  While grants will vary in size and scope, we recommend the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) to find one to best fit your solar goals.

This easily navigable site breaks down available renewable energy grants available by state and type and is updated real-time.  It also contains a wealth of information on new policies and initiatives related to renewable energy specific to your state – a valuable resource during a time in which renewable energy policy is constantly changing.  Keep this site bookmarked, as you will find yourself referring to it and sharing among colleagues.

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These are just three avenues of funding that have demonstrated success.  As the solar sector continues to mature, we will be sure to see an increase in innovative funding models for nonprofits.

So what’s the takeaway if you are a nonprofit interested in a solar project?

Find a partner with specific experience in solar energy for nonprofit organizations – they will have the expertise and infrastructure already in place to help you succeed in a way that’s consistent with your organization’s goals.

Still have questions? Clean Power Marketing Group can help!  We are proud to be one of the Department of Energy’s SunShot approved partners, and we can guide your organization in its solar endeavor. Shoot us an email or reach out on social media.  Together, we can solarize your organization’s mission!

Coming Up: Part 2 –Nonprofit Solar Case Studies & Success Stories

Written by Zubin Segal

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