Successful Nonprofits are Founded on Experience and Unique Solutions
by Justin Blaney and Jon Bell
More people are starting nonprofits today than ever before.
Many founders are millennials with fresh ideas and limitless energy.
There are big upsides to this social explosion. Such a large number of engaged citizens is making a huge positive impact on the world. It’s a great time to work in the nonprofit sector because the huge influx of talent and energy can be used to fuel entirely new initiatives from the ground up in less time than ever.
But the downside is many of these young social entrepreneurs don’t have the experience necessary to accomplish their goals. They often don’t realize there may be others who are already addressing the issues they’re passionate about. And they may attempt to enter an existing marketplace without having a highly unique angle to address the problem they’re aiming to solve which can result in wasted resources and frustration.
If you’re a young social entrepreneur, here’s our advice.
Before staring a new social enterprise, search for existing nonprofits who are already doing great work in your area of interest. There are over 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States alone. Any problem that needs solving has likely already attracted thousands of nonprofits. And many of these nonprofits have been working on solving such problems for decades.
Rather than competing with those who are already doing the work, you should spend time mentoring under your future competition, learning which mistakes can be avoided and picking up a few leadership skills along the way.
You might think you have a unique way of addressing a problem and you might be right. But that problem will still be waiting for you a few years down the road. Take time to learn from those who have been doing this a while before wasting thousands of donor’s dollars making avoidable mistakes.
If you want to address education policy in Washington D.C., spend a few years as a public educator in an elementary school first. Volunteer at your church’s sunday school. Intern under a politician or activist. Gather experience from varied sources, then bring those experiences together as you craft your unique solution to the problem you want to solve.
You’re going after the same donors as 1.5 million other nonprofits, a nearly impossible task without a highly unique solution and experience. Rather than competing with other nonprofits in your area of interest, learn from them. Leverage their networks. Collaborate.
You might even try giving your ideas away. If another nonprofit uses your ideas, it affirms your talent and your vision. And, if your ideas are so good that other people are using them, you’re probably going to have a lot more good ideas in the years to come.
About the authors
Justin Blaney is the #1 bestselling author of Evan Burl and the Falling. He’s a blogger at JustinBlaney.com and I4J.org, the creator of Isfits, and a film producer with Inkliss. He lives outside Seattle with his wife and three daughters. Connect with Justin on Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.
Jon Bell is the director of Live58, an organization aiming to end poverty.