Don’t Start Yet Another Nonprofit

start a 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 FactCheck.org 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)

If Giving Money Directly To Poor People Works Best, Then What Are Non-Profits to Do?

impact on nonprofits of giving cash to poor people

People in poverty lack money. It seems obvious that the best way to end their poverty is to give them money. Increasingly, studies support this obvious approach to reducing poverty. Yet the vast majority of poverty-reduction organizations and agencies offer goods and services, not cash. What is the impact on nonprofits of giving cash to poor people?

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Free download! Data visualizations from U.S. Census Bureau

Median Household Income

[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

The U.S. Census Bureau generates so much credible, useful data that it can sometimes be difficult to locate relevant data and format it for easy presentation to your audience. To help with the distribution and promotion of their data, the Census Bureau offers free data visualizations that you can download and add to PowerPoint slides, proposals, reports and other documents.

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The power of promotion: advertising healthy eating to kids

vegetable-characters

Kids don’t often eat healthy foods. The temptations of snacks and sweets is powerful. The tactics major food companies use to promote their products exacerbates the problem. What if those same tactics were employed on behalf of vegetables?

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Scale: What’s the difference between growth and sustainability?

assemble-line-cooking

As I examined in a previous post, Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter thinks that profit is the key to scale, even for nonprofit organizations. Lack of profit might be what keeps social enterprises from reaching the scale necessary to make a difference in the world.

A recent Stanford Social Innovation Review article, “Four Approaches to Nonprofit Sustainability,” discusses ways to scale a social or public organization:

Continue reading Scale: What’s the difference between growth and sustainability?

The Social Progress Index: Measuring the quality of our social nature

Marketers often benchmark their goods and services against the competition. For countries, the main benchmark for nearly a century has been Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. The United States rules in GDP. While increasing GDP does correlate with some improvement in social conditions, it is purely an economic measure. As the measure of a country, a society, it’s narrow and incomplete.

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The power of promotion: marketing same-sex marriage

marriage equality

Regardless of whether you support same-sex marriage or not, have you wondered how the movement went from losing 30 state-wide votes by 2009 to winning approval in 37 states and a Supreme court ruling by 2015? It really was a stunning reversal for the movement.

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Free download! Free state-level data on economy, equity, income, government and more

Compare50

Which states currently rank highest in median household income? Which states have the highest foreclosure rates? Which states are benefiting from domestic migration?

Compare50 gives you access to free state-level data across a wide range of topics.

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Free tools! Free social research data

Data goes a long way towards informing the design process. It can pinpoint who your audience is, where they are, what they need, how they want it delivered, and how they want to pay for it.

Quality data can be difficult for public and social sector organizations to generate on their own, and expensive to purchase. Check out these sources of free, high quality social research data. (Use free visualization tools to explore and present your relevant data.)

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Free download! Nine health data sets

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In his 2016 State of the Union address, President Obama announced a “moon shot” project to find a cure for cancer. A recent Marketplace story explained that a big focus of this project is to make more data available to researchers.

You’re probably not a cancer researcher, but many public and social sector organizations focus on health and could use more data for market research. Here are several sources for free medical data to help you in your projects:

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