State & Local Programs

CASA: A Guide to Program Development

Section 1 - Planning a Quality Program (Chapters 1- 9)
Section II - Volunteers (Chapters 10- 12)
Section III - Managing the Program (Chapters - 13-15)

<Manual HomeIntro Chapters1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Section I - Planning a Quality Program
Chapter 8: Establishing an Office

Office Space
Office Environment
Furniture and Equipment
Computer System
Telephone System
Copying

Office Space

Establishing an official office is an important milestone for the developing organization because it is a strong symbol that the dream is becoming reality. Having an office is an indication to the community that the program is becoming a viable organization and provides a location for people to associate with CASA. It also allows the printing of brochures, stationery, and business cards with an address and phone number, important steps as you begin to plan for volunteer recruitment.

Office rent can be a big chunk of the monthly bills. So, before signing a lease, it is worthwhile to investigate the availability of free or very inexpensive space. Many CASA programs have been able to negotiate in-kind space in the courthouse or a nearby county or city facility. Such an arrangement is ideal because of proximity to the court and because other in-kind services such as telephone and the use of copy machines are often part of the arrangement.

If court or other government space is not available, you might have luck finding space to share with another nonprofit agency or a local law firm. This can be extremely advantageous, especially if there are meeting or training rooms and equipment that can be shared as well.

Other factors to consider as you look for office space are:

  • Terms of the lease. Sometimes landlords are willing to give potential tenants a break on the rent if they will sign a long-term lease. Be cautious about entering into such an arrangement as the needs of the program may demand more or different space before the lease expires. It is also possible that donated space might become available and if the program is locked into a long-term lease, you may not be able to take advantage of that benefit. Also be wary of lease arrangements that include automatic increases each year.
  • Location. It is desirable that the program be located in proximity to the court. Some programs have made office location decisions based on cost alone, without considering that staff, as well as volunteers, must make frequent trips to the court. If the office is located a significant distance from the courthouse or if the trip is inconvenient because of poor access or excessive traffic, the savings in rent may in reality not be cost efficient.
  • Size. Space planners say that, ideally, an office should provide at least 200 square feet of space per person, including common space. Don?t forget to consider the need for private space to interview potential volunteers and to discuss confidential cases during supervision sessions, as well as space for board members or volunteers who may help with office duties.
  • Anticipated growth. While you may not need much space in the earliest stage of operations, try to anticipate potential growth to the extent possible, since leases are usually offered on a multi-year basis. It is often difficult to break a lease if it becomes necessary and it is always expensive to move to a new location.
  • Utilities. If the cost of utilities is included in the lease, the landlord will handle the monthly payments directly, but be aware that those rates may automatically increase each year. If you will be doing volunteer training in the office or holding other meetings at night or on weekends, be sure that the building will be lit and heated during those hours and that you will not be billed an additional amount for the extra hours. If the program is to handle its own utility bills, the landlord should provide estimates of the average monthly bills you can expect. It?s a good idea to confirm the estimates with the utility company or other tenants, if possible.
  • Cleaning service. How the office gets cleaned can also be tied to the lease. In some larger office buildings, the landlord often adds janitorial services to all the leases. In other places, the program may need to hire a janitorial service separately.
  • Security and safety. Some security and safety measures are the program?s responsibility regardless of the type of lease. Before signing a lease, be sure to consider the relative safety of the surrounding neighborhood and the security of the parking facilities, especially in the evenings when staff and volunteers may be coming and going. Be sure that fire exits are accessible and that fire extinguishers are available and in working condition, especially if there is a kitchen that may be used for cooking purposes. While most CASA programs are not legally required to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (which applies to organizations with fifteen or more employees), accessibility for disabled persons will be a consideration in volunteer and staff recruitment.

Before signing any lease, it is a good idea to have it reviewed by an attorney.

Top

Office Environment

In addition to the physical and legal considerations, it is important to assess how pleasant and functional the space is. Is it clean? Well lit? Is there adequate storage space for supplies and equipment? Is the workspace configured, or can it be arranged, to provide staff the necessary environment in which to be productive and efficient? Will volunteers and potential volunteers feel welcome and comfortable? Does the environment project professionalism?

Much can be done to create a pleasant and professional office environment without spending a great deal of money. Freshly painted walls can work miracles if the landlord will agree to paint them or allow you to. It is usually possible to secure the donation of paint from local merchants and it is often not difficult to find volunteers who will give a Saturday to help with the painting.

Using posters, photographs, or framed children?s art on the walls is also a creative way to make the office friendly and welcoming. Be sure also that you use art that depicts various cultures and ethnic backgrounds in order to make the office comfortable for everyone. Try to avoid clutter, which detracts from the professional image you want to project.

Top

Furniture and Equipment

Nonprofit organizations can often find businesses willing to donate used furniture and equipment or sell it at a very low cost. The donor gets the benefit of a tax deduction and saves the cost of disposal of old furniture or equipment. Contact local businesses that may be planning to remodel or expand their current space and may therefore be replacing existing equipment. If this option does not prove fruitful, there are many sources of used office furniture and equipment in most communities.

Before purchasing furniture or equipment, compare the cost of leasing which may, in some cases, be a more cost effective approach. Equipment, such as copiers, which generally needs to be updated every few years may be better leased than purchased.

Top

Computer System

In today?s business environment, computer technology is a necessity. Besides word processing for volunteer reports and correspondence, programs utilize computers for accounting, data collection, publishing of program newsletters, and budget development. Access to the internet is necessary for email, access to many of National CASA?s resources, financial grant reporting, and to conduct research on funding sources and child welfare issues.

In setting up the program?s computer system, consideration should be given to the confidential nature of information that will be maintained. What kind of security will be provided, who will have access, and how long will information be retained are all issues that should be addressed in policy.

Many programs begin with one desktop PC and a good printer which will likely be adequate for a while. Though it is easy to obtain donated computers from businesses that are upgrading, the decreasing cost of computer hardware and rapid improvement of technology, make purchasing a new PC with the latest pentium processor and sufficient memory to meet the program?s needs for the foreseeable future, the best option.

The issue of training staff to utilize the necessary software applications and the maintenance of the equipment should also be considered. More discussion on these issues is contained in National CASA?s Achieving Our Mission, Chapter 7, "Making the Most of Technology."

Top

Telephone System

Purchasing a telephone system can be very expensive so most small programs find that leasing is more cost effective. Though a one-line system may adequately service the program at the time of initial operations, you should consider obtaining a second line in order to have a dedicated line for internet access and fax capability. There is a wealth of programmatic and management information available on National CASA?s web site and periodic live topical forums are an excellent source of staff training. Email has become a main source of communication between programs and volunteers as well as among programs across the country. Having a dedicated phone line for computer use avoids the necessity of tying up an only line when the computer is online.

Every CASA program should have an answering machine or voice mail service, especially if staff will not be available to answer the phone during normal business hours. The message on the answering machine should always be up to date and messages should be retrieved and responded to on a daily basis. Nothing will lose a prospective volunteer faster than poor telephone response from an organization.

Top

Copying

It is unrealistic to think that even the smallest office can do without a copier for its routine needs. Access to copying equipment is a must for court records, volunteer reports, and many other things required daily. For the new program, you might begin by estimating the copying needs for a month-long period. Then actually track a few months? volume and make adjustments to the budget if necessary. If copying is not provided by the court or umbrella agency, the program may want to consider leasing a machine or purchasing a used one. Large projects, such as volunteer training manuals or newsletters may be more economically sent out to a copy/printing company, especially if all or part of the project can be negotiated as an in-kind donation to the program.


<Manual HomeIntro Chapters1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
This Web site is funded in part through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice. Neither the US Department of Justice nor any of its components operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this Web site (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).