If you’ve recently checked out a book from a library, adopted a pet, explored a museum, gone to a hospital or healthcare clinic, or watched your niece’s youth soccer game – chances are that you’ve engaged with one of the approximately 1.5 million 501(c)(3) nonprofits in the United States. Nonprofits are all around us, providing vital services that benefit Americans from every walk of life. And while they provide priceless public goods, most nonprofits operate on small annual budgets. In fact, many have struggled in recent years due to increased costs and demands for services, but decreased revenues in return. It seems that they are constantly being asked to do more with less.
At the Department of Energy (DOE), we want to change this paradigm. We want to help nonprofits do more with more, and that’s why we are thrilled to announce selections for the $45 million Renew America’s Nonprofits grant – a first-of-its-kind investment in the nonprofit sector. Funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this grant will help nonprofits make high-impact energy efficiency improvements to create cleaner, healthier community spaces, while generating sustainable savings so that critical funds can be redirected toward mission-driven work.
After salaries, energy costs are the second-highest operational expense for nonprofits, and up to 30% of the energy consumed in nonprofit buildings can be wasted due to building inefficiencies. This means there is significant potential to reduce energy use and generate savings for nonprofits – if only they could access the expertise to identify, implement, and manage high-impact energy efficiency projects, and the funds to cover the costs.
The Renew America’s Nonprofits grant will deliver all this support and more. Utilizing a nonprofits-supporting-nonprofits model, DOE has identified nine Prime Selectees who will dedicate their experience and capacity to helping hundreds of nonprofits across America. While still finalizing their subrecipient portfolios, Prime Selectees have indicated plans to complete projects at approximately 300 facilities, across 28 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Prime Selectees will not only sub-award grants of up to $200,000 per building: they will also provide technical and administrative assistance to sub-recipient nonprofits, decreasing barriers to successful project implementation and allowing nonprofit sub-recipients to focus time and energy on what matters most – their missions.
Energy Savings in Action
On October 25, 2023, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm traveled to San Jose, California, to make the selections announcement and to experience the impact of these grant funds first-hand. Speaking from Martha’s Kitchen foodbank, the Secretary acknowledged the need for investment in the nonprofit sector, and explained: “Nonprofits promote social cohesion, public health, creativity, and innovation — all of which are essential to thriving communities. With this funding, the Biden-Harris Administration is empowering these organizations to expand crucial services by cutting their energy costs, while bringing the nation closer to President Biden’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
Martha’s Kitchen is a previous partner and prospective subrecipient of Ecology Action, one of the nine Renew America’s Nonprofits Prime Selectees. Ecology Action plans to use the grant funds to support foodbank networks throughout the west coast, optimizing energy savings and creating a lasting financial safety-net for these organizations, while promoting equity, environmental, and employment benefits.
Ecology Action has committed to improving air quality in subrecipient buildings and has projected energy savings of up to 20% across all the buildings in their portfolio. They intend to collaborate with three partners: California Indian Manpower Association, California Association of Foodbanks, and Alliance of Nonprofits for Insurance.
While Secretary Granholm was in California, Principal Deputy Director Tony Reames from DOE’s Office of State and Community Energy Programs (SCEP) traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska to congratulate Prime Selectee Alaska Heat Smart, and to tour the site of a prospective subrecipient nonprofit.
Alaska Heat Smart specializes in lowering energy costs in disadvantaged communities experiencing a particularly high energy burden. They are partnering with Information Insights and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Alaska Campus to implement energy efficiency improvements in up to twenty-five nonprofit buildings, in the multi-family-housing and health sectors, serving low-to-middle income neighborhoods.
“We are thrilled beyond measure,” said AHS executive director Andy Romanoff. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us, for our partners the AK Campus of NREL and Information Insights, but mostly for the nonprofit organizations working in the health and housing spaces that we will have the opportunity to support. By helping 25 nonprofit organizations lower their operating costs increase staff comfort, and redirect expenses to the organization’s critical work at hand, many, many Alaskans will benefit.”
What’s Next for Selectees and Prospective Subrecipients
Prime Selectees will now enter the award phase, and will submit portfolios identifying subrecipients, efficiency projects, and a complete picture of demographic and geographic impacts by June 2024. Prime Selectees will focus on implementing high impact energy efficiency upgrades, such as HVAC, lighting, and envelope improvements in these facilities. Across their portfolios, Prime Selectees have projected energy cost savings of up to 39%, and greenhouse gas reductions of up to 35%.
The Renew America’s Nonprofits grant is part of the $50 million Renew America’s Nonprofits Program, funded by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Funding for the competition meets and exceeds the goals of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 Initiative to put environmental and economic justice at the center of America’s transition to a net-zero economy. At least 60% of sub-awards will go to nonprofits in disadvantaged communities. In addition, through the Community Benefits Plans required by DOE from all applicants, Prime Selectees have committed to flow specific economic and environmental benefits to the communities in which projects will take place. In support of President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda, each Prime Selectee has identified enduring impacts from their investments – including the creation of pipelines for high-quality, clean energy jobs (especially for historically underrepresented groups); networking and training tools for local populations or groups involved with the projects; networks for financing; and replicable partnership models.
DOE knows that strong, resilient communities rely on strong, resilient nonprofits, and that every dollar saved through energy efficiency investments is a dollar that nonprofits can reinvest in crucial services. The Renew America’s Nonprofits grant aims to stimulate widespread energy improvements in the nonprofit sector by promoting partnerships between stakeholders to create a pipeline of energy and cost-saving projects that will continue beyond the life of the grant. To facilitate engagement and partnership-building, DOE has established a Teaming List. Prime Selectees will have access to the Teaming List as they are finalizing their subrecipient portfolios over the coming months.
For further information about the Renew America’s Nonprofits Program or the Prime Selectees, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.