by Julianne Buck
Last night I was watching “Chopped” and a contestant was asked, “What will you do with the $10,000 if you win?” His response: “Start a nonprofit to help the homeless.”
No. No. Please – no.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all for passionate people using their assets to improve the quality of life in their neighborhood. I have nothing against helping the homeless. But a nonprofit started with only $10,000 doesn’t have much of a chance of longevity.
We have way too many nonprofits in our country, especially the State of Illinois. If you think we have too many units of government in Illinois, look at the quantity of nonprofits that we have, too. It’s unbelievable.
Instead I would hope that this contestant would reach out to organizations in the region who already have programs to serve our homeless neighbors and develop a way to use his $10,000 in a way that is meaningful for him and accomplishes his goal.
I missed the beginning of the show, but I’m assuming from other comments that he was once homeless. This is a tremendous asset – it’s often difficult or ineffective to design programs to serve a particular population without a frame of reference (Most women don’t like programs designed for us by men; I’ve worked in restaurants that were laid out poorly and probably not designed by the wait staff. But I digress). With his experience, he knows the mentality, thought process, struggles, and poor design of other program to address homelessness. Combining that with his $10,000, he can design a better program that tackles a particular aspect, neighborhood, or street that has a much better chance of success.
Starting a new nonprofit is not necessarily expensive, but it is labor-intensive and most passionate people don’t want to spend time on the administration of setting up a board of directors, bookkeeping, marketing, and filing state and IRS paperwork – they want to be out and about delivering services. This is my main reason for advocating for partnering with an established organization. Let them handle the administration – perhaps for a small fee – and give you the freedom and guidance to deliver effective services.
Some are probably thinking “What if I don’t have a quality nonprofit in my area to partner with?” This could easily be true. I’ve experienced many nonprofits who aren’t big thinkers. They perform in their box and that’s it. If a nonprofit doesn’t get your pitch – or throws too many curveballs – move on and expand your search. I’ve seen nonprofits partner with organizations many counties away or in other states – organizations who have the right service mentality and want to expand their territory.
I’m a huge advocate of networking. Just start saying it out loud and others will chime in and spread the word. Post on Facebook and LinkedIn that you’re looking for an organization who does X in Y community and you’ll get all sorts of suggestions – both helpful and not.
Having said all of that, is our contestant finished after that $10,000 is gone? Not at all. With some effective storytelling and proof of impact, he (and the nonprofit he’s partnering with) can cultivate more funding for the program. Then, with more time, impact, and funding, perhaps his dream of services for his homeless brethren will become sustainable and that start-up money is the seed that grew.
To wrap up, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest his local community foundation as a potential partner – an organization where he can place his $10,000 as a donor advised fund to do good things. However, community foundations are not always a good fit for every nonprofit situation – and I believe this is one of them. We provide many services to donors and nonprofits and sometimes that service is simply guiding them on the most efficient path to accomplish their goal. And sometimes we have to discourage the creation of a new nonprofit.
Julianne Buck is the Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Grundy County in Illinois.