30 Mar So You Want to Start A Non-Profit? Here are 5 Things You Need to Know
Over the last 3 years, people have asked for advice about running a non-profit. I always find it relatively funny because I really haven’t accomplished much in my past beyond Gamerosity and even still, I’m figuring it all out as I go. However, over the last few months, I’ve received a lot of inquiries and thought I’d curate some thoughts here and perhaps you may benefit from these applications in non-profit administration, your personal life, and maybe even your business administration. In the end, we’re all trying to change the world for the better. That comes with responsibility on your part as a leader, here’s some things I’ve learned.
1. BE WILLING TO DIE FOR YOUR CAUSE
Let me tell you something, running a non-profit is incredibly difficult. You may be a successful business person and an absolute failure as a non-profit administrator because the moving parts are more complicated. You have to deal with the preconceived non-profit expectations by the community, perpetually fundraise for your cause, and experience the heartache that deal with being in such a touchy/feely industry, among many other things. Working in the non-profit sector is not for the emotionally unavailable or the passively committed. You will have days where you look yourself in the mirror and wonder why you even bother (not because your cause isn’t worth it, but because some may see your cause as not worth following). If you’re not completely passionate about your cause, you’re wasting your time and the time of those you’re soliciting. You can’t grow passion or nurture interest into passion. You either are or you aren’t, and if you aren’t, you won’t last. Maybe this sector isn’t for you. Maybe your role within a certain cause isn’t necessarily leadership, perhaps you serve a better support role for the cause-at-large. I know that’s not easy to read, it wasn’t easy to write, but it’s supremely important that you know yourself, for the sake of the cause. We all want to be leaders, but not everyone is prepared to lead at any given moment. Are you passionate about your cause? You better be. Because the peaks and valley’s are tumultuous.
2. IF SOMEONE ELSE IS DOING IT, SUPPORT THEM INSTEAD
Seriously, I can’t say this enough. If someone was doing something like Gamerosity, I’d be supporting them, heck, I’d be their biggest supporter! I love when I see families who’s children have been impacted by cancer want to make a difference, it means there’s a deep, incredible stirring in their heart to make a difference and “pay it forward.” It’s beautiful. There’s opportunity everywhere for these families to find their place within this journey and every now and again, an individual will emulate what another non-profit has done for them. For many reasons, I’m against this. Obviously, an organization that helped you went through a lot of turmoil to get where they’re at so they can be in a position to help you in the first place. Circumventing them so you can do for others what they did for you can actually do more harm than good. We live in a world that thrives on volume discounts and diluting an industry can help less people than you’d think. Secondarily, if you feel the call to help people, there’s a creative way to do it that is specifically meant for you. There’s a process to supporting families that is perfect for you, it fits your personality, and caters to your strengths and talents. It took us a year and a half to launch Gamerosity because we wanted to make sure we did it right. We wanted to make sure we weren’t taking dollars from other non-profits and were still able to support other non-profits by not cannibalizing them. It may take more time for you to start your non-profit, but I promise you, there’s a place for you in this, don’t take the easy way and copy others, find your fingerprints.
3.DON’T DELAY, REGISTER FOR YOUR 501(c)(3) IMMEDIATELY
Yes, it costs money to register your non-profit. Yes, it takes time… but think of it this way, you’re asking friends and family to help fund your non-profit and you haven’t served them properly. They’ve done their part and you haven’t done yours. If you’re asking for even a penny, you have a responsibility to your donors. You are no longer a fun-loving, innocent person who just wants to help people, you’re now a leader and it’s time to act like one. At the end of the year, you’re going to be asked by people for your TIN so they can write off their donation to you and if you’ve been accepting money without being in compliance, you’re not only harming those kids, you’re directly hurting your donors. Get it done, be in compliance. All of us other non-profits that you feel you could “do it better than” have gone the proper routes to serve our community of donors, it’s time you do the same. And perhaps, after doing so, you may gain some perspective about how real non-profits are ran. It’s not so easy to run a non-profit and focus on your mission when you receive a letter from the State of Oregon fining you for not registering followed by a letter from the IRS with a hefty fine for not filing your 990 Annual Report. Things get complicated when you owe the State, County, and IRS fees every year. You need to know those things, accept them, and be in compliance with them. Not for the State, County, and IRS, but so you can continue serving those that are a part of your mission and the donors who support you. You’re a leader now, it’s time to act like one.
4. DON’T JUST KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS, KNOW YOUR WEAKNESSES
This should probably be number one on the list. You have to know what your weaknesses are. You have to. You have to confront those issues head on and be real with yourself. We all like to pitch a tent and “live” where our strengths are and simply disregard our weaknesses… That’s not leadership, that’s lying to yourself. And if you’re lying to yourself, you’re lying to your donor base and the group that you serve. Your goal should be to lift up your non-profit, not your name, so confronting and making note of your weaknesses won’t hurt your non-profit, it’ll set you up to approach it properly.
5. THEN BRING IN SOMEONE STRONG WHERE YOU ARE WEAK
This ties with Number 4. There is no perfect leader, that much is for certain. But there are great leaders and great leaders know how to both delegate and inspire others to join them in the journey. Personally, I’m terrible at the “fine print” of running a non-profit. The forms, the compliance issues with the State, and all those technical things just make my head want to explode. But Mike Combs (Combsy) is fantastic about handling all that stuff, that’s why he’s our Board President. I’m great at “vision casting” but not so much with logistics and planning, so I delegate that to Lauren, one of our Board Members. The list goes on. The point is, you can’t and shouldn’t run a non-profit on your own, you must find people who are like-minded and can be strong where you’re weak. These people also provide wonderful insight and correction as you accomplish your mission. These people keep me “on mission” and pointed towards our overall goal.
Obviously, there’s many, many different things to know about starting a non-profit, this is in no way an exhaustive account, but it is a valuable checklist. Along the road, people are going to try to copy you (trust me on that one), freeze you out, discourage you, and distract you. Stay fierce, stay focused, and be encouraged. If you were made for this, you have the ability to see it through.
Is there a suggestion you may have? Some insight to lend? I’d love to hear it! I’d love to grow with you and learn how I can lead my non-profit even better. Let’s hear it.