About a year ago I was teaching a class on fundraising for a local university. Bright kids, good questions. After the session, one student approached with a question I asked her to clarify, to which she responded: “Because I want to start my own nonprofit.”
I’m not one to crush dreams, though in that moment I felt like the Hulk (smash). She explained what her nonprofit would do, which was to provide super-specialized care to a hyper-select population of women-in-need — essentially, Planned Parenthood with a different logo.
We see this a lot in the field. Eager, emerging nonprofiteers who have so much energy, they want to get out and do their own thing. They’re everywhere, and truth be told, many of them are great colleagues. BUT. I believe in the experience of experience, through which we often learn about doing our best work by being part of something, rather than being our own something. [Aside: At the end of the movie SLC Punk, after years of fighting the establishment, the main punk yields and becomes a lawyer, noting: “We can do a hell of a lot more damage in the system than outside of it.”]
In Houston (Harris County) where I live, there are over 28,000 nonprofits. That’s nearly one organization per 166 people — numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t tell the whole truth. Many of these institutions are doing great work. However, unless this student herself had the answer to all women’s reproductive issues, I felt compelled to encourage her to spend some time working within the field. You know, before making the leap to incorporating, identifying a board, filing with the state/IRS, putting together an inaugural fundraising plan, crafting a marketing/branding strategy, etc., etc., etc.
There are some great, new nonprofits out there. Some have found a niche, aren’t duplicative in their efforts and have traction — I volunteer on the board for one such organization, and got involved because of the founders’ passion. We did it the right way by putting together a strong team that is playing the long game.
I suppose that’s my takeaway: make moves, but first take baby steps.