Go Ahead, Start that Nonprofit Organization!

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.