We Don’t Need Yet Another Nonprofit Right Now

Note: Originally posted in 2018, it felt timely to refresh this piece in light of the global pandemic inspiring people to found even more nonprofits.

Several years ago I was teaching a class on fundraising for a local university. Bright kids, good questions. After the session, one student approached with an inquiry, and when I asked her to clarify, she responded: “Because I want to start my own nonprofit.” 


Disappointment, personified.

I’m not (generally) one to crush dreams, though in that moment I felt like The Hulk — smash! The student explained what her new nonprofit would do, which was to provide hyper-specialized care to a hyper-select population of women-in-need. In her words: Kind of like Planned Parenthood, but totally different. In my words: Identical to Planned Parenthood, with a different logo.

We are seeing this a lot right now, in light of COVID-19, much like we often do after natural disasters, economic downturns, and other national or global experiences. On nonprofit whisperer Joan Garry’s Facebook group, Your Thriving Nonprofit, we see dozens of posts about this each week — eager, emerging nonprofiteers who have so much energy, they want to get out and do their own thing. They are everywhere, and truth be told, many of them are great colleagues with reasonably good intentions.

However… there is something to be said for 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: If any of you have seen the movie SLC Punk, after years of fighting the legal 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 nearly 30,000 nonprofits. That’s nearly one organization per 160 people — numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t tell the whole truth. Many of these institutions are doing great work. However, unless the aforementioned student or other NPO founders have the answer to whatever cause they want to support, I feel compelled to encourage them to spend 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 boards for several such organizations, and got involved because of the founders’ passion. These organizations did it the right way by putting together strong teams that play the long game.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, if you must — and I mean absolutely must, lest your soul depart your body — do something, you have options which don’t involve adding to the ~1.6 million nonprofits which already exist in the U.S.:

  • First and foremost, volunteer! So many organizations our there need your help, and sources like VolunteerMatchAllForGood, and Idealist can help you find opportunities nearby.
  • Get some family, friends, colleagues, etc. together and raise/donate funds as part of a giving circle.
  • If neither option above are your speed, you can identify and partner with a fiscal sponsor to help you raise tax-deductible resources for your project or cause.

I suppose that’s the big takeaway. Unlike Paul Rudd from that scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshallmake moves, but first take baby steps.




Director of Strategic Failure

Society for Lax Administrative Processes (SLAP) — a nonprofit organization based somewhere — seeks to immediately and with reckless abandon hire its inaugural Director of Strategic Failure. SLAP has been in existence for some-odd years, and following input from several overpaid consultants and absentee board volunteers, has decided this new position will be vital to the success of its current and future deficiencies.


Awkward handshake, awkward hire.

With the understanding this role will be led primarily from a perspective of “other duties assigned,” the Director’s essential responsibilities will be to:

  • Schedule meetings ad infinitum, all of which could instead be updates sent via e-mail
  • Wander the entire office suite at least once daily, muttering “Everything all good, here?”
  • Brainstorm new, innovative strategic initiatives with the executive director, ensuring each are ambiguously conveyed to the programming and fundraising staff
  • Telecommute every Friday, making sure the staff know you are unable to access any files outside the office because you “just don’t understand that whole VPN thing”
  • Copy-edit all marketing and communications materials using AP style for odd-number pages (1, 3, 5, etc.), MLA for even-number pages (2, 4, 6, etc.) and Chicago style for every tenth page
  • No less than three times each month, change the login passwords for organization’s donor CRM, e-newsletter platform and other administrative subscriptions, keeping the new passwords on a hand-written sheet of paper locked in a drawer in your home

SLAP prefers candidates with 25+ years experience in any field whatsoever, though please don’t be dissuaded from submitting an overzealous application because you have a master’s degree in nonprofit management and did a six-month internship that one time.

To apply, please mail 17 copies (single-sided on yellow cardstock) of cover letter, résumé, list of three references, headshot (or image from your childhood), memory of your favorite meal and writing sample to: Bea Arthur Fanclub, c/o Harris Productions, 11901 Santa Monica Blvd., #596, Los Angeles, CA 90025.

Interviews will begin immediately, though an offer will be tendered to a mediocre candidate after a significant waiting period of roughly two-to-three months. No phone calls, please, though since many of you will not even bother reading this , you may call 877–547–7272, which is the company headquarters of Papa John’s Pizza.

SLAP is committed to diversity, inclusion, equity, equality, Coldplay, the DQ Blizzard®, flannel shirts, antidisestablishmentarianism and pogs.