There seems to be a trend in starting nonprofit organizations. Everyone wants to do it, and I’ve had several 19-22 year-olds ask me how it’s done. The first thing I ask them is why they want to start a nonprofit. Why not collaborate with another program or project that is already in existence? Most tell me that other programs aren’t well organized or managed. So why not use your skills to help them become more effective! What eventually comes of this conversation is an admission that they want to start their own thing because they want to have something to call their own. If nothing else, I can appreciate the eventual honesty, but starting a nonprofit organization so that you can have something to call your own is not a good reason to start a nonprofit organization.
You should also avoid starting a nonprofit organization if you are doing it to add to your community service arsenal for school. I once told a soon-to-be lawyer that I was considering taking the LSAT and applying to Yale. She told me that if my grades were decent and I started a nonprofit organization I should get in … If you have ever received this advice, I will tell you that you should ignore it. You should not start a nonprofit organization just to get into a university, or to get a scholarship, or anything similar.
You should, however, start a nonprofit organization if you are truly vested in a relevant cause. If you are truly absolutely passionate about your plan of action. If you think it is an innovative idea that will provide lasting change to the community you want to help, and if you have a business plan. If you have the time to give your life, or a portion of it, to others. If you are willing to be a full-time employee and a full-time volunteer. If you have a support system in place, both emotionally and financially, and not just for your organization, but also for yourself. If you have thought about it for “a long time now” and have done your research, know your “stuff,” and are confident that you have the entrepreneurial skills it takes to run a business. Yup, that’s right. If you don’t think you have the ability to run a business, you should avoid starting a nonprofit. An effective nonprofit is run just like a business: marketing, accounting, staffing, the works.
If you are passionate about what you want to do and the community you want to help and you are ready to embark on a hard, long, but rewarding journey, then you’re ready to join the rest of us! Some people might try to deter you by arguing that there are too many nonprofits in existence already. While I understand their perspective, I think that if there were too many nonprofits there wouldn’t be any problems because all the nonprofits would have fixed them already. But, since that’s not the world we live in, if you are mentally, emotionally, and financially prepared, I say, “Go into the world and do good.”