Think Again

Everyone Wants to Save the World. They see step one as filing for 501 (c) 3 nonprofit status.  There are so many reasons why this is a bad idea.  Let me suggest a different approach.  Chances are that you are acting on a good idea that you hatched in your own brain.  Three cheers for you for thinking about how you might be able to make the world a better place.  Let me suggest that you follow a different path before taking the time and going to the expense of establishing yet another tax exempt organization in your community. If you are starting a nonprofit organization because you haven’t been able to find a job and you think this is a good way to create one for yourself, you are mistaken. Establishing, managing and sustaining a nonprofit organization is not for the faint of heart. Many doomed nonprofits were begun by people who had never worked in the nonprofit world before. Before filing those papers try this:


Be an investigator.  Spend time in your community taking it all in.  Stop, look and listen.  What are the most pressing issues that stand in the way of progress in your community? What are you passionate about?  Do the community’s needs and your passions intersect?  How can you take the community need and your passion and combine them to make a positive, meaningful difference?  Is someone in the community already doing work that relates to the need that interests you and your passion for it?  If you think not, think again.  Most things worth doing are being done by someone somewhere.  What if the work is being done, but not very successfully?  Rather than reinventing the wheel, perhaps you have a skill to offer that may help the existing nonprofit meet their goals more effectively.  Perhaps they have much to teach you about a subject you know little about, but feel passionate about.  Can you mentor a child?  Can you coach a sport?  Can you raise money?  Can you spread the word about the need and the organization’s work?  Can you rally others to feel a sense of urgency about a particular problem?  Can you answer the phone while others do the work?  Can you bake cookies? Can you address envelopes?  Are you an internet junkie? The possibilities are endless.  Before you establish your own nonprofit organization, work or volunteer in one that is already established.  You will find it to be a valuable experience.
Be an innovator.  Think about new ways to approach old problems.  Move beyond, “We’ve always done it that way” and other forms of planned obsolescence.  Get around, “But she’s so hard to work with.” The person working in the field you are passionate about may be doing things the same old way because she doesn’t have time to innovate.  She’s buried in the work.  Can you help in some way—large or small—to lighten his load and enable him to use a different approach?  Do you know people in the community or the larger field who have experience with this type of work that may help formulate a new approach to the work of an established organization?  If you think not, think again.  There may be a way.  Have you utilized the internet to its fullest potential as a research tool to help you find better ways to approach a challenge?


Be an initiator.  Be willing to ask the hard questions in a thoughtful and meaningful way.  Very little is accomplished through tantrum.  Are there several organizations doing the same type work who seem to be in competition?  How does their work overlap?  Would it make sense to challenge the status quo and ask why something is being done in a particular way?  Are you afraid to upset the apple cart and, therefore, just want to forge your own path? Tempting though that may be, try to resist.


There are plenty of 501 (c) 3 organizations in your community.  Most of them are struggling to stay alive.  Each one of them was established by someone who had a good idea and wanted to save the world.  The United States government regulates nonprofits because the allure of tax-free status sometimes attracts folks with sinister plans. Take a look around your community and study who is doing what in the nonprofit world and try to determine why they are doing it.  If they are successful, chances are they need help.  The strongest organizations are always innovating to be more effective.  Joining forces may make the most sense rather than starting your own separate organization.  Banding together to face community challenges builds stronger, more effective communities.  Give it a try.


By Geales Sands

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