So, every time I hear fellow nonprofit workers complaining about going to networking events and hearing a person say, “I want to start my own nonprofit!” I want to say,
“Why are you pooh-poohing their idea? Maybe it’s a good idea! Maybe we DO need another nonprofit to deal with this issue!”
There are a lot of nonprofits that do similar things, it’s true.
There are also a lot of nonprofits that seem to be unusually resistant to change, that do not like to collaborate, and that are remarkably isolated for the national movements they’re part of.
And for this, we need to not try to change them from within, for too often nonprofits would rather fire change-makers rather than actually listen to them.
So for this we need to create our own nonprofits.
If you still believe that we have too many nonprofits, then do a little survey.
Research idealist.org or do a quick google search and tell me how many nonprofits there are in your town that do the exact same thing, and how many ways they overlap services.
Frankly, I think that there will never stop being a need for nonprofits to do the things that government is increasingly backing away from doing.
As schools are teaching to the test instead of encouraging children to broaden their love of learning, we find after-school programs funded by nonprofits doing just that.
As federal programs for job training are being phased out, we find nonprofits stepping up to the plate, creating career fairs and computer labs to retrain people out of work.
As governments defund programs for the homeless, we find a surge in need, and homeless services nonprofits banding together, sharing resources, and helping people more than ever before.
Starting a nonprofit is like starting a small business, but instead of saying, “Here’s a way I can make money and help my family”, more likely the person starting the nonprofit is saying,
“Here’s a way I can make money AND solve this societal problem.”
If 90% of new businesses fail, then should we be surprised that many new nonprofits fail too? Should we be worried if they do? Maybe not!
I mean, come on! We have tech for-profits starting up every day, and no one says to them, “There are too many tech startups! Cut it out already, there’s not enough need!” because frankly, we are all on the internet, and we read things CONSTANTLY. We’re always looking for information or for ways to make our lives easier.
We are all out in the world, and we see the need for nonprofits constantly, whether we go to the hospital because we have no health insurance, or whether we see a homeless man asking us for change.
We see the need when we go to the grocery store and have the option to donate to charity at the register, or when we see trash in our favorite green places and know that our local nonprofit needs to help clean up.
And that reminds me. This week, for Earth Day, when you’re out walking, why not pick up some trash that you see by the side of the road, and take it to a trash can?
Leave it better than you found it.
There really aren’t enough nonprofits out there. I love being next to a big city but I wish there were more services provided for women and extremely low income seniors in this area of my state. When I worked in substance abuse in Camden, NJ a city high in addictions and poverty there weren’t any inpatient facilities, (at the time) to take my clients to in their own region of the state. I guess the question is how to find and encourage more philanthropic minded people so that established nonprofits don’t squabble and feel intimated by new change makers onto the scene.
There is enough for everyone. This mentality of “prove you’re needed!” seems to arise from a feeling that new nonprofits will somehow be taking away support or funding or something from existing nonprofits. This mentality of scarcity is one of desperation: Keep out! Don’t try and break in! Who do you think you are?
Strange, for the sector that is about building goodwill, that we can’t do it for each other.
I wish it were this simple. Here in Cleveland funders have led a just-announced series of nonprofit mergers because of mission overlap and resulting inefficiencies. I have the same reaction that you note others do when I hear that someone wants to start a new nonprofit. Often the idea I hear presented isn’t innovative or new, and the people I talk to often haven’t looked around to see what’s already out there. In for-profit start ups, a decent business plan includes knowing the market and the competition.
We do have a lot of organizations fighting for the same dollars and supporters. That’s not always a bad thing, but our sector needs more innovators, not just more nonprofits.
I agree with you, there are never enough nonprofits. When we were researching how to start a nonprofit organization we go discouraged. But then we found and used a service to start our nonprofit. They were super helpful and had our nonprofit up and running in 4 weeks. They have helped us through the entire process and give us 100% support. We are well on our way to becoming an important help in the nonprofit community.
I do wish existing nonprofits would be brave about collaborating, either with other existing groups or with individuals or start-up groups with similar missions/goals. I wish more would merge, too.
I think funders have to push for more meaningful collaboration, and start to ask hard questions when they see duplication of services.
At one agency where I worked, the United Way review team would always laud us for being the gold standard, miles above the other groups working on our issue. Other groups working on our cause don’t even come close, they would say. I wanted to ask them why on earth they funded those other groups if we were so clearly doing that much better. (As you can imagine, my CEO would have dropped a 2,000-pound anvil on my head had I done so. I left the job.)
I have become very wary, however, of people telling me they’re starting a new nonprofit, because I almost never see them filling in the existing service gaps. I talk to three or four aspiring nonprofit leaders each month. Rarely do they have an innovative idea for meeting a critical need, and almost never can they tell me who in the community is doing something similar and why their idea/program/solution is better (or at least worth testing), and you know funders are going to ask that same question. Most are proposing something that I know at least one other agency does very effectively on a wide scale. None have spent any time volunteering for those agencies to see how things are done (or not done), and none have looked at ways they could collaborate, so they haven’t had the chance to be shot down (or pleasantly surprised).
When I push back, I generally hear some kind of variation on well, I went to a workshop, and I heard I could get a big government grant to do that work. They get defensive – but I’m doing something good! This is for charity! It’s for the children! When the question keeps coming back to how much money I think they can expect to make in the first year, however, it is hard for me to take these people seriously.
That’s the origin of my extreme skepticism about people who want to start nonprofits.
Earth Day: If you see trash, pick it up. You don’t have to start a nonprofit to pick up trash. Just start picking up the trash, and see what comes from it. Maybe instead of starting another nonprofit that rallies community groups to pick up trash, you’ll discover that what the community needs is a trash-hauling service to remove the waste that current groups already pick up, or composting bins at all public parks. THEN it MIGHT make sense to think about meeting that need with a new organization.
But don’t think you need the badge of nonprofit status to do good in the world. If we all waited for official government recognition, or grants to flow in, or a new logo & website before we started helping each other, the world would be a pretty sorry place.