Clean Energy Fd’n Draws Social Investors to Nonprofit’s Solar Project

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October 1, 2014; WTTW-TV

Recently, Chicago’s Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) partnered with investors leading to the operation of the second-largest number of solar panels in Chicago. Thanks to funding from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and social investors, the organization purchased and installed 485 solar panels for its 93 year-old landmark building. The panels will reduce the building’s dependence on external energy sources for electricity by 23 percent.

By empowering individuals to invest in the project, ICA is following its mission of encouraging people to be agents of social change. The project will save the organization $16,000 in energy costs per year and is part of a nonprofit trend in developing creative new revenue sources and funding opportunities. Working with a small number of investors, the ICA funded the 40 percent match required for the $600,000 project. In return, each investor will receive a four percent annual return on their investment for the next ten years. After the ten-year period, the organization will be relieved of its debt. The funding model is similar to planned giving opportunities.

The ICA is a member of ICA International and is the only nonprofit of its kind in the U.S. Its mission is “to build a just and equitable society in harmony with Planet Earth through empowering cultural dimensions of the social process.” ICA’s programs include leadership development and service learning. The ICA’s eight-story building is home to diverse nonprofit organizations, including an interim housing program for homeless women and a dental clinic. The building is the largest nonprofit social service center in the Midwest, serving over 1,000 clients every week. Additionally, thirty-four people live in the building as part of an intentional or shared residence.

The project was part of a Retrofit Chicago Commercial Building Initiative. Of the 48 participants, the ICA is the only building outside of the Loop or downtown area and the first nonprofit to participate. This project is the organization’s first step toward environmental sustainability; the next is the development of a BioShaft system as a waste water solution.—Gayle Nelson

  • Jack Gilles

    As one of the investors I feel this is worthy use of my savings. The ICA is a sign of dramatic commitment to sustainability. I would hope it would inspire other locations to do likewise.