Yeah, I can’t think of one reason why you should

22 Nov

I could say I’m lazy, but the truth is–I could not finish my thought, I wanted to end the “should I start my own nonprofit” series with a clever “Take arms against a sea of troubles” post that was meant to give you reasons why and tips on how to do it right, but…

Just don’t do it.

I probably shouldn’t say that. There have to be good, legitimate reasons why you’d need to do that, but I haven’t been able to think of any since June. June, people. Since I last blogged, I’ve had a birthday, a friend has gotten a new car, I’ve started a new side business ( that has nothing to do with grant writing and the seasons have changed–on paper. It’s still mostly summer in Texas.

If you don’t agree with me, here is your proof. See, even The Chronicle of Philanthropy thinks it’s a bad idea.

But if you press me, I guess I can come up with a few exceptions. Like…if you have an existing program that outgrows the parent organization. Mission drift may be a good reason to split into a new organization. But let me stress, in this case the project in question has been in operation for some time, has a track record, has been successful.

One example is AIDS Services of Austin, which few people remember started out as Austin AIDS Project, just a little tiny program of Waterloo Counseling Center. This was 1984, when everyone thought we’d have this AIDS thing over and done with soon enough. I wish this had been the case, but seeing the need only growing and seeing that the services needed for people living with HIV/AIDS included, but was well beyond, counseling, some good people created ASA to be able to respond to those needs as they changed and not create mission drift for Waterloo. That transition happened in 1987, and I think ASA has proven its relevance over and over in the past 24 years.

Another example is Con Mi MADRE, which had a fantastic 17-year run as a project of The Junior League of Austin. Back then, it was the Hispanic-Mother Daughter Project, which went from serving 30 girls and their mothers in 1991 to over 700 mother-daughter teams (that’s 1,400 people) last year. Again, the neccesary response was so large that it was not able to be fulfilled by the League, and in fact, association with the League held it back as much as it helped. Many people and funders assume that the Junior League has unlimited resources and couldn’t see why they should support one of their projects. The truth is that the Junior League does not have infinite resources, has irons in many important fires and is full of a bunch of shrewd, money-minded women who can make a dime screech. Me being one of them. We watch our pennies carefully. So spinning off Con Mi MADRE in 2007 was the only way to grow the project, meet community need and create a pool of independent donors and volunteers dedicated to Con Mi MADRE, not just the League.

Another good reason is that perhaps you live in an isolated community and residents lack access to proven models of social services and attempt to access them in other communities, but fail due to barriers like cost or transportation. If you live in the Valley and the nearest domestic violence shelter is in San Antonio, you need to start a shelter. But you have to document that need. You have to follow a proven model, you have to set outcomes and plan how you will track data. You have to have an accounting system. Even if no one requires that of you yet. Because without voluntary accountability, you’re just runing a hobby.


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