The Architect's Blog

Observations on a Year of Giving Back to the Long Beach Community

At the beginning of 2015, I made the decision to clarify the identity of M. Grisafe Architect. Some of the questions I asked myself as I was going through the process were:

  • What does our company stand for?
  • What types of projects would we like to do more of?
  • What types of people do we most enjoy working with?

My reason for going through this process was to create a spirit that could help guide the growth of the company. I want those that work for me, our clients, potential clients, and the community, to understand what we do and why we do it, and I can only communicate that clearly if it is clear in my own mind.

One of the values that I realized was very important to include as part of the company’s identity was a dedication to public-spirited work. Since the beginning of the year, we have worked on several projects in the vicinity of our Long Beach architecture firm where we either sharply reduced our fees, or charged no fees at all. Some of these projects included a clinic for the underserved in downtown Long Beach, a local community center, a home that had suffered a devastating fire, and a review of the City of Long Beach’s procedures.

Here are some observations I’ve had from my year of intentionally engaging with our community and finding ways to give back:

  1. There are others in the community that value public-spirited work as well, and engaging in it myself and with my company has connected me with many of them. On occasion, this leads to work for M. Grisafe Architect.
  2. When dealing with individuals or organizations with limited budgets, it is important to be clear about which work is outreach and which is “business.” Making the distinction helps all parties avoid frustration.
  3. Once word gets out that you are open to projects that benefit the community, expect that you will be approached often to participate in them.
  4. It can be difficult to maintain a sense of “urgency” on projects where people are paying little or nothing at all. I have had to be very deliberate about keeping these projects moving forward and not allowing these clients to rehash the same decisions over and over again.
  5. Community work is not necessarily the best place to “cash in” favors with other business owners (builders, consultants, etc.). Just because I am donating my time or reducing my fees, doesn’t mean others should be expected to as well.

As we approach the new year, we fully intend to continue this community-minded work. I know we still have things to learn about the best ways to handle such projects, and we will continue to work out how this all fits into the big scheme of operating and growing our Long Beach architecture firm.

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