Go Ahead, Start that Nonprofit Organization!
Posted on March 28, 2010
In my last post, I mentioned that I disagreed with a recent post by Sandra Simms titled, “7 Reasons NOT to Start a New Nonprofit Organization”.
Unfortunately, I ran at the mouth about why I created Where’s Your Heart? as a non-profit, so never really shared my thoughts about Sandra’s article.
Let’s just take a look at Sandra’s 7 points in order:
1. There is already an organization filling that need.
Yeah. I’d tell Steve Jobs the same thing. There were already other companies making MP3 players. Or smartphones. No need for another one. Go do something no-one else is doing. Sorry about the sarcasm, but no one organization will fill every market’s needs… whether for-profit or not. Do you have the passion and energy to run your own company? Want to have that excitement and feel good about what you’re doing? Think you might even (gasp!) be able to do it better than the establishment? Go for it! Competition is good. And, you’ll feel great.
2. You do not have other people “on board” yet.
Uh, so get them on board? It takes one person to start. Ideas, they’re easy. Execution. Making something happen. That’s hard. And, one person alone can make a huge difference. Show some results, and you’ll have all the people “on board” (what’s with those quotes?) that you want.
There’s even a nonprofit who helps other nonprofits that can’t afford help and don’t have people “on board”. It’s called Grassroots.org. Check them out.
3. Your idea is better suited for a for-profit enterprise.
This is definitely one to think about, but take a look at what I’m doing. There’s a business model (and that includes things I’ve not shared, because I believe in competition and don’t want to give it all away just yet) for my organization. I made an explicit choice, perhaps against the advice of others, to make Where’s Your Heart? nonprofit to emphasis my focus.
Maybe you should do the same? What is your organization’s purpose? Will it be charitable first, then it deserves a nonprofit heading… otherwise it’ll be commercial. There’s nothing wrong with that, but either one can suit your purposes equally well. Remember, it’s your company!
4. Starting up takes time.
You bet. Almost a year for me, and I’ve not yet run an event.
No one said it’d be easy.
If you want to do something quick and easy, read a book. Watch TV.
Want to do something fulfilling? Something that will make a difference? That takes commitment. Be decided and do it. If you believe in your cause, it’s worth your time.
Of course, as Sandra points out, if you want to react to an immediate need (like disaster response) you’re much better off working through an existing organization… Maybe you’ll find your wish to help transcends a single disaster, and you want to start your own organization to help provide rapid response to disaster relief around the world? (Actually, that’s not a bad idea! I can see building infrastructure and using modern technology to enable grassroots rapid-response efforts around disaster relief. Of course, it could be commercial, but possible to be nonprofit.)
5. OK — Sandra accidentally missed this one. I do that all the time.
6. You’d like to plan a one-time fundraiser.
With all my nonprofit experience (tongue in cheek there, I’m a newbie) I agree with Sandra on this one. For a one-time thing, no reason to start up a company and go through the expense and effort. Better to work within another organization. Even if you want to have a yearly event, you could always do it through one (or more) existing nonprofits. And, you’d probably get some help working with another organization as well. Much easier not to have to figure it out on your own (though, that’s not a reason not to start!).
7. Your type of cause makes it difficult to secure long term funding.
Sure. I can re-write this one as “don’t start your business before you figure out how it’s not going to fail.” It might be difficult or impossible to do certain things under the nonprofit umbrella or IRS restrictions. I’ve run into some real serious limitations myself. In my case, I’ve just shelved certain plans/ideas until I get more experience and funding to handle the challenges.
Another suggestion is to rethink your approach, to see if taking a different perspective might make it less difficult to secure funding. In my case, I’m funding it myself, and my approach includes staying at my “real job” so that I can keep doing so. It means my work at Where’s Your Heart? sometimes is slower than I’d like, but the tradeoff is that I can keep at it.
And, with that, I’ll just add that I don’t know Sandra, but I’ve been enjoying her thoughts on twitter and her blog, because she offers good advice on fundraising and other topics of interest to the non-profit community.