Friday, November 22, 2013

Seven nonprofit dream killers (and how to avoid them)

Many good people want to start nonprofits. They usually have great passion for their cause, and want to solve problems. They expect smooth seas and clear sailing on the way to their destination. Unfortunately, they often run aground on the rocks of reality. Here are some common pitfalls associated with starting a nonprofit.

1. You haven't developed a support network.

Nonprofits don't function well as one-man (or woman) shows. Start by identifying supporters, and hold a well-publicized informational meeting or two to assess the interest in your nonprofit. These folks will be your potential board members, donors and volunteers and the meetings may generate immediate financial support.  

2. You think your organization is the only one that can address the problem you want to solve.

It is unlikely that no one else has seen the problem you are seeing. Don't re-invent the wheel. Check for nonprofits in your area that are addressing the same issues, especially those that are currently receiving funding. There is a good chance that you may find not only kindred spirits, but organizations that are already dealing effectively with the issues that you can join. If no one else is in the arena, there is probably a good reason why they aren't.

3. You believe it is easy to get money to support the organization.

You may be willing to invest every dime you have in your organization, but the world of nonprofit funding is competitive and notoriously difficult to access for fledgling organizations, particularly for day-to-day expenses. Only about 20% of nonprofit support nationwide comes from grants and unrestricted donations. The other  80% is up to you to figure out.

4. You haven't researched the skills needed to operate the organization.

The mission is important, but it takes real-world business skills to achieve success and longevity. There are serious legal, financial and administrative aspects involved in being a nonprofit. If you don't have all the skills needed, you will need to attract or hire people that can fill in the blanks.

5. You are easily frustrated when things don't immediately go your way.

Growing a viable nonprofit is often arduous, expensive, frustrating and time-consuming. Starting a nonprofit is not the place to find instant gratification.

6. You think it will be an easy way to create a paying job for yourself.

Founders usually form part of the board of directors, since their goal is (or should be) to guide and expand the organization. Board members normally don't and can't receive a salary for serving on the board. If you can accept being an employee of the nonprofit as the CEO or executive director and understand the potential risks associated with that, there may be income potential, but it isn't a sure thing.

7. You don't have a coherent plan for long-term success.

You may know what you want to accomplish, but you need to have a way to get there. The time you spend on a five-year plan now will save you innumerable wasted and expensive hours spent in crisis management later.

Knowledge really is power. Know what you are getting yourself into before you start. For more in-depth insight into the realities of starting a nonprofit, I offer a free whitepaper, "Climbing the Ladder to Nonprofit Success". Request your copy at If you need assistance  in implementing or understanding  any of the steps, or just have a comment, drop me a line. Want to know more about my services? You can view my website here.

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