Thinking About Starting a Nonprofit? Take my advice…Don’t.

We are swinging from one crisis to another in this country right now. No matter your political leanings, your take on the pandemic or the cries for racial justice across the country, people are passionate for change.

In the midst of our nation’s multiple problems, well-intentioned people want to change the world, and some think the best way is to start a nonprofit. I caution people to ask themselves some hard questions before they take on building an organization from the ground up.

1. Is there a nonprofit already out there doing this work? If so, you may be better off connecting w/them and fundraising for them rather than starting your own. Starting your own is a lot of work and has its own set of labor costs until you can afford to pay staff, plus across the entire industry it duplicates and replicates jobs. How many executive directors of organizations raising money for breast cancer research do we need in order to eradicate breast cancer? The answer should be one, possibly two, but right now it’s more like 20 or 30. That’s a whole lot of salary, staff and leadership duplicating work other nonprofits are doing. There are already 1.5 million registered nonprofits in the United States. What will one more organization do that others aren’t already doing?

2. Why are you considering starting a nonprofit? Is it to make a difference? Fill a need not currently being filled?  Do some soul-searching on why you’re considering starting a nonprofit and how much of your life and time you’re willing to dedicate to it. I can’t tell you the number of people who start out passionately throwing themselves into the task and burn out within a year, brought down by the grind of trying to organize and raise money.

3. Is your nonprofit for a short-term need or a long-term need? Once the nonprofit is up and running, is it sustainable? Short-term doesn’t need a nonprofit, it needs a fund. Long-term, see question number one.

If you are interested in a specific area of fundraising, then you can partner with a nonprofit and create a fund under their umbrella. A great example of this is the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund, which is managed by the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. Zach tragically died of osteosarcoma at the tender age of 18 — you may be familiar with his song “Clouds” which he wrote and recorded. Children’s Cancer Research Fund raises money to research all pediatric cancers, but Zach’s family wanted to raise money specifically for the kind of cancer that took their son, so they created the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund. They raised more than $1.5 million in the years since his passing and the resulting research has made breakthroughs in the treatment of this type of cancer.

Because of their partnership, Zach’s family could focus on telling his story, on fundraising and raising awareness around the need to research this rare disease. They did not have to recruit, train and work with a board, hire an executive director or fundraising director, or manage all of the operations of a nonprofit. Because of that, their son’s life truly made a difference in the treatment of osteosarcoma.

Ask yourself these three questions. And then if the answer is still yes, there are a lot of resources out there that can help you. Throw me a line and I can connect you with those in your area.

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