On Friday I received a phone call from an acquaintance. Her friend is starting a new non-profit and needs my advice (for free, of course) on how to raise money, host an event, build a brand, stand out about her important mission…. All the same questions of every non-profit. I have heard these questions 1,000,000 times before. My response is always the same – do not start a non-profit. At least don’t start a non-profit until you are absolutely sure there is nobody already doing similar work with whom you can partner.
I am sensitive to the passion it takes to reach the stage of saying “I want to start a non-profit” and I applaud the desire to make an impact in our community. Austin has more non-profits per capita than any other city in the Country. And it’s a tough environment for raising money – we are a young, transient community built of hippies and hipsters, politicians and academicians and Californians. There is a SMALL pocket of incredibly generous people in Austin who are gracious and giving beyond comprehension. But that pocket is small and the competition for their attention is steep. We don’t have a significant presence of company headquarters in Austin so the few we have are absolutely pounded for support at every turn.
Today’s world requires efficiency and transparency and demands results. A new non-profit will not have results to report. It’s tough to launch from scratch and that’s why I always recommend collaborating with another organization whenever possible. If you do launch a non-profit, expect the work to be 10 X what you predict and the pace for recruiting and maintaining donors 10 X slower. Remember, just because this is your passion doesn’t mean it is instantly someone else’s – no matter how sad/compelling/amazing the story you tell. There are a lot of sad stories out there competing for those precious dollars. When you are ready to launch out on your own, create a plan with reasonable goals – a timeline for reaching those milestones and a clear, concise vision for why someone should invest in your organization – the ROI you will bring through your work.
At JHL we help our non-profit clients build and tell their story – showcase their results and we build unparalleled events to engage supporters and recruit visibility. Event planners plan events, fundraisers plan events that WOW at every turn but never forget to focus on the NET results. We are proud of the reputation we have built and welcome the calls for advice – just remember don’t ask a question unless you want the answer. Usually my answer is – STOP, COLLABORATE and LISTEN!