Is this the wrong time to start a nonprofit?

Dear Kim,

I want to start a nonprofit that teaches young people digital arts.  I have researched and received training on how to do this, and now I’m ready to get things going.  I have board members ready to volunteer and support the vision.

There is no other organization with this focus here in our small city, and there are plenty of teenagers who need a place to go outside of school where they can learn and have fun.  Yet, because of the economy, I’m wondering if this is the wrong time.  Should I wait or just jump in?


Castles in the Air

Dear Castles,

Wait for what?  For the economy to improve?  The young people you want to work with will be long gone before that happens.  You signed your letter “castles in the air.”

You probably know the whole expression, which my dad used to say to my sister who wanted to be an artist, “If you don’t build castles in the air, you’ll never build them anywhere.”

Start right after you answer my questions, listed below.

This is what you say you have done to get ready:

1)    Landscape survey of some kind showing that there is no other organization in your small town doing work that is similar to what you want to do. 

2)    Lined up people to serve on the board of directors who will volunteer and “support” the vision.

3)    You have learned the administrative and fundraising skills needed, and presumably you would serve as staff.   

Here are my questions for you:

A.  In your landscape survey, did you find any organization that you could partner with?  That would be the easiest way to start.  When we create an organization, we need to keep in mind that the WORK of the organization is the point and the organization is simply the container or the place where the work will happen.  Is there any organization you can do YOUR work with, and not have to create a totally new entity?   (You could always spin off later.)

B.  Do the people you have recruited to serve on the board understand that “support the vision” means giving money themselves and raising money from others?  For some reason, this detail sometimes gets left off the recruiting literature, even though it is in the top three most important things a board does.  (Helping the organization stay mission focused, and making sure the organization spends money properly are the other two.)

C.   Do you have a budget and a fundraising plan?  Do you know for sure that a cross section of people in your community agree with the focus you propose?

If you can answer yes to all of the above, there should be nothing to stop you.  If you cannot answer yes to any one of these questions, then you haven’t quite done all that is needed to start a new endeavor, and the economy really doesn’t have that much to do with it.

Good luck!

~Kim Klein