start a nonprofit

Don’t Start Yet Another Nonprofit

“If you’re the kind of person who tends to succeed in what you start, changing what you start could be the most extraordinary thing you do.”

I previously featured this quote in a post about why society needs great marketers. If you’re a marketer interested in or working in the public and social sectors, maybe you’ve wanted to start a nonprofit of your own. As someone who has started his own business and worked at startups and nonprofits, I advise you to think long and hard before you start a nonprofit. It might not be the best way to have the impact you desire.

What Facebook and Nonprofits Have In Common

Dustin Moskovitz, one of the founders of Facebook, gives a great talk about why you should start a company. I think it’s just as applicable to nonprofits.

Moskovitz hears budding entrepreneurs cite several common reasons for starting a company: financial gain, massive social or commercial impact, lifestyle, and control. Most of the time, Moskovitz says, these are pipe dreams.

He also hears passion and aptitude as reasons to start a company. These are better reasons.

Moskovitz goes on to make the case that if you have passion and aptitude, and want financial gain, massive impact, and even the founder’s lifestyle, you may be better off joining an established but growing organization.

The same goes for nonprofits.

It’s Hard Work To Start a Nonprofit

Nonprofits may have a lower failure rate than businesses. Getting volunteer labor and donated capital may make it easier for small organizations to hang on. This article on gives reliable statistics about 10-year survival rates for nonprofits. The rates are lower than the proverbial 80 percent failure rate for startup businesses.

Still, you probably want to accomplish more than merely hang on.

There is fierce competition for donations, as well. The top three percent of large nonprofit institutions account for more than 90 percent of nonprofit revenues. According to Charity Navigator, nearly half of all charitable giving goes to religious and education groups. Unless you’re starting a church or a university, your pool of available funds just shrunk by half.

Even if you can get funding, a lot of hard work lies ahead. As a marketer, you know that design, distribution, pricing and promotion are fundamental activities for any organization. You’d need a vision for these four core areas for your nonprofit. In addition, consider the other necessary-but-time-consuming tasks in founding an organization, such as

  • Legal compliance
  • Facilities
  • Human resources
  • Accounting

If you lack passion or aptitude for these tasks, or feel they will detract from what you want to accomplish, maybe you shouldn’t start a nonprofit. And that’s okay.

If I Don’t Start a Nonprofit, Then What?

Don’t start yet another nonprofit, unless you have the passion to wade through all the heavy lifting without losing sight of accomplishing your vision. There are plenty of ways to contribute to our social good. Consider these choices:

  • Give money directly to those how need it. Research is demonstrating the power of direct cash payments.
  • Donate your time and money to an established nonprofit that aligns with your goals. They already have the infrastructure you need to support your work.
  • Change careers to join an established nonprofit. This is harder to pull off, but nonprofits are always looking for experience professionals with new perspectives.
  • Start a business, instead. There’s good support for a business solution to poverty, for instance.

If you’ve read this far and aren’t deterred, here are a couple next steps:

  • Visit the National Council of Nonprofits for resources on how to start a nonprofit.
  • Consider franchising a nonprofit from another community.  Instead of starting from scratch, adopt the model of a nonprofit already succeeding in another community. You’ll help them scale while building on the work they’ve already done.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

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