From 15 Skeptics to 5 million

A year ago, I wrote this article and included it in our Annual Report. I'm sharing it here because today because in the past year my colleagues Joe and Jessica have repeated this process with other groups and the possibilities for more are growing. I think this story is important. -Felipe


Imagine this. You've gathered 15 contracting managers for the third month in a row.

At the first meeting you pitched them on an idea to save them $5 million for their facilities. Met with incredulity, you bring your knowledgeable finance friends to the second meeting to explain the details.

As you paint the picture, the objections become more real: "We lease our building, so we couldn't..." laments one. Another asks: "Wouldn't that mean we'd have to pay taxes?" and a third complains, "My lawyer won't let me do that."            

As you walk into the third meeting, you realize your hands are trembling because you're nervous. In the back of your mind you know the odds are stacked against you. Organizations have incredible inertia against fixing something that's not broken. The status quo is powerful. The world has too much uncertainty to get a series of decision-makers to proceed with any 10- or 20-year agreement, let alone something they've not seen before.            

But to your surprise, this third meeting is different. Nate, the business manager, came prepared to answer an objection about a leased building. Sarah, the CFO, talked to her finance committee and board chair and got their approval to explore further.     

Fast forward 6 weeks and you're on the verge of becoming the DC solar market's price maker—not just the price taker. You have two vendors lined up to install the system at no cost to the school and they're eager to sweeten the deal with additional payments. Over 20 years, the solar systems will put $5 million into teaching—not just paying to keep the lights on.

A year ago, CPA invited 15 school business managers to come together and identify shared points of concern. We've negotiated copier contracts, we've pushed back on under-performing security companies and most critically, we have experienced the strength that comes with collaboration. We have grown to trust and rely on one another. Though we are comprised of completely independent institutions, we are beginning to see what is possible when we work together.            


This is the promise of CPA’s model. It's also the promise and history of results from cooperatives that have shaped the fabric of communities throughout the world. From agricultural marketing co-ops to rural electric cooperatives, ACE Hardware, REI, Land-O-Lakes and Organic Valley, cooperatives are both an old and a new way to build a better world. 

Meet Yehwroe: The Newest Member of CPA's Team

A little about me:

I am a Washington, DC native; first generation Liberian-American; avid book reader and an agent for social change. My previous work experiences have largely been at the intersection of advocacy and social enterprise; working for the likes of the NAACP and UberEATS, respectively. From these experiences, I have acquired many transferable skills, however, my key strengths are partnership building and program coordination.

As the DC Program Manager, I provide direct programmatic support to the Regional Director.  I am primarily responsible for exploring new membership and vendor opportunities and managing significant parts of the program operations and communications, in efforts to improve CPA’s ability to help more organizations save money. I hold a dual Bachelors of Arts in Africana Studies and Psychology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Currently, I am  also a part-time/online graduate student at the Pennsylvania State University, seeking a dual Masters in Community and Economic Development and Business Administration.

An Unexpected Vote of Confidence

Who doesn’t love an unexpected vote of confidence? Last week, we received this  letter from one of our founding members: Temple Sinai. In the letter, Ellen Agler, the temple’s executive director, describes what a difference it makes to work with one of CPA’s preferred copier vendors.  While we love to hear from our members anytime they have a great (or even not-so-great) experience with a vendor, this one came out of the blue and was a great reminder about why we do what we do.

 If you’ve ever known the hassle of switching copier leases, you can appreciate her sentiments below:

“Dear CPA Staff - A quick note to share that, from my perspective as a CPA member, I had such a wonderful experience dealing with the transition at the end of my 3-year copier leases.  We have 2 machines at Temple Sinai and since I’ve been here (2008), every 3 years we need to go through the laborious process of selecting vendors to bid on our copiers and then negotiate lease and service terms.  It is such a time-consuming process, with many details to compare and contrast - the hassle factor is huge for an organization of our size.  Yet we diligently have done it every three years in order to insure that we got products that met our organization’s needs, and at as fair a price and contract terms as we could discern.

Well, this year we ended our first 3-year copier lease term with a CPA preferred vendor.  It was SUCH a different experience, in a good way!  The vendor reached out to us in advance of the lease expiration to find out if our needs had changed, and stopped by with updated proposals.  He explained the slight differences (improvements) between our current and the recommended machines, and got answers to a couple of our questions about capabilities timely.  By sticking with a CPA preferred vendor we got pre-negotiated prices & contract terms – all were straightforward and positive – in fact the price went down slightly!

Making the change is going to happen in a couple of weeks.  For the first time, we will not need to deal with returning equipment or hassles associated with switching leasing companies.  And, all of the programming in our current machines will be transferred to the new ones.  What formerly had been a 2-4 month process and much aggravation with lots of mystery thrown in, is now streamlined, fair and EASY.

Thank you CPA!  We love you!

-Ellen Agler. Executive Director of Temple Sinai"

 The feeling is mutual, Ellen! Thanks so much for the glowing review of our copier program.

-CPA Team

What do the new PCSB rules mean for me?

What do the new PCSB rules mean for me?

Dear DC Charter School Administrators,

We have good news!

The DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) has made procurement compliance submission requirements much better. For the past few years, many of you have told us how ambiguous exactly what you are supposed to submit is for utility contracts and other brokered deals. Of course, many would point to the footnotes 12 and 13 that highlighted some exemptions, but still the policy wasn’t clear.

Hiring: Regional Director

Who We Are

We believe that the future of nonprofit facilities management can be transformed with the power of group procurement and strategic sourcing. The Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) has already changed the way that 160 schools and churches think about their utilities, service contracts and vendor relationships, and we’re hiring a hungry and experienced Regional Director to level us up.