Most people who start a nonprofit do so as the result of being genuinely passionate about a specific cause or population. The early stages of deciding to form a nonprofit resemble that of falling in love… or at least being infatuated (well… not really… but you see where I am going with this). For many, just the thought of being able to “help” a certain group of people or contribute to a certain cause produces that warm, euphoric feeling of “now I can make a difference”. Nevertheless, soon after getting started most find that the “I can make a difference” part does not happen as aggressively as they had assumed. With this the “thrill’ that was once felt when thinking about all that was about to be accomplished, is soon gone!
Truth is that a lot of work goes in to starting and sustaining a nonprofit organization. Additionally, even more work goes into starting and sustaining a “successful” nonprofit organization. Many enter into the process with the assumption that their cause is so great and so unique that everyone with a heart will be knocking their doors down to donate to them and that funding agencies will readily give them grants without a second thought. Unfortunately, for the overwhelming majority of new and under-developed nonprofits it does not work out this way.
With this, we find that these organizations lose energy, become stagnant and eventually become discouraged to the point of dissolving their organizations. So what went wrong? Here are 5 of the several reasons why your nonprofit has not picked up the momentum that you anticipated.
1) Poor or inadequate research
2) Under-developed or unqualified leadership
3) Unclear mission, vision, and/or goals
4) Poor visibility
5) Looking in all the wrong places
First and foremost, research is crucial. Of course we all get bright ideas. We all have a passion for something, but does it necessarily mean that we should start a nonprofit because it? Well… NO. Adequate research will allow you the opportunity to learn more about your “cause”, to learn whether or not your passion is truly a passion that others are also passionate about and willing to give to. Is the problem that you are trying to solve really a problem or is it just a personal concern? Is it something that your community will buy into? Is a similar service being offered in your community, your region, your state, your service area? If so, are these organizations doing well? If not, how can you make your services better? If so, what, if anything can you do differently?
The next one is a big one. Founders of new nonprofits, particular with zero to no real budget, usually take the leading role, at least initially. They wish to serve as President, CEO, and in whatever other capacity they can serve in. The problem is that founders, while they are great visionaries, often have no experience in nonprofits. This is perfectly okay if they are willing to engage in continuing education, however, it is more than often the case that they try to jump right in. Unfortunately, without a clue of what to do or where to go… things go downhill fast. Additionally, while we love our cousins, friends, friends of friends, etc., these people may not necessarily be suitable for your board. See my previous post “A Board that Brings It” to learn more about what a qualified board should “bring”.
Another issue is having an unclear vision, mission, or goal. If your mission is unclear and poorly articulated, you will find it increasingly difficult to potential donors. If you do not know where you are going (vision), funding agencies will definitely not take the time to figure it out. If you need help developing or revising your Mission Statement, check out my Mighty Missions Toolkit at http://www.perfectingwellnessllc.com/products-promotions/ .
New nonprofits will not be as popular as the Girl Scouts for example… at least not initially. But if you hide, who will know that you are there? Having a presence in the community allows others to know that you exist. They are able to see that you are indeed “working” toward your cause. This helps them to see you as more credible and they will eventually “trust” you enough to give you money. While I am not going to get into it here, an online presence in this century is just as important as a physical/in-person one.
And finally… looking in all the wrong places. For example, if your organization has a focus on purple elephants and yellow monkeys please do not respond to funding proposals seeking programs funding green tigers and pink puppies. Funding agencies can definitely see through the “fluff”. Do not try to squeeze the square peg into the round hole.