Yes, non-profit work can be profitable. In fact, I am currently receiving my primary income from a non-profit that I started a little over four years ago. But that does not mean charitable business is cake walk.
There is so much talk, so much “motivation" flying around these days, “encouraging" the average Joe or bleeding-heart Mary to start his/her own NPO (Non-Profit Organization). I don't mean to pour cold water on anyone's hot idea, but may I say, “Not so fast"?
Before you dive in, plunge in to that seemingly lucrative world of non-profits, get a reality check. Do you really have what it takes to start and run a non-profit organization or NGO (Non-Governmental Organization)?
As one who has organized four charitable organizations, I can tell you right now that you will need more than “a good heart" to operate a respectable and successful non-profit organization.
To gauge your readiness, ask yourself these eight questions, and write down your answers. It is important that you not just answer these questions in your head; put your answers in clear writing and read them back to yourself.
Question 1: What is the cause or need that I want to address? If a real need exists, can I find a way to meet the need without setting up a new organization?
Question 2: How much passion do I have about the need that exists? Why do I think I will be able to devote the time, effort, energy and resources that will be required to satisfy this need?
Question 3: Why do I consider myself a leader? How do I rate as a leader? It takes real leadership to organize and operate a non-profit. Can you provide that leadership? If you want to birth this baby, you must be the one to nurse it, at least from the initial stage.
Question 4: Have I checked to be sure there is no existing organization that is working to address the same need or the same people I want to help? It may be far better for you to volunteer with an existing service than to start something from scratch. The joy of charitable work is not found in your running the show; rather, the fulfillment or sense of meaning and purpose is found in simply helping people. And it really doesn't matter what position you, the helper, holds. Volunteer or director; it makes little difference to your heart and soul.
Question 5: What research have I done on the sources of funding for my dream or vision? If you find that funding sources are indeed available, what are those sources? Will you primarily go after public funding or grants (federal/national government, state/local government)? Or will you target private sources (foundations, businesses, churches)? Will you ask individual donors, and are you the type of person who is comfortable with asking for donations? How much fundraising (selling, dinners, etc) are you willing or able to organize?
Question 6: Who will my helpers be? Most successful non-profits require more than one person to operate. You need a minimum of two other people who believe in the cause almost as much as you do. These helpers must be people who have some organizational skills like yourself. Why? Because if something happens that makes it impossible for you to continue, your helpers should be willing and able to step up and continue the mission.
Question 7: Where will my organization meet in the initial stage? Of course, you can start a non-profit from your kitchen table, but if you mean business, it won't be long before you will need some kind of office space. You need to start brainstorming where that office will be located, and how much it may cost, though you may find donated space.
Question 8: How much money can I personally afford to spend on starting my non-profit? Don't bet on money pouring into your organization from the get-go. More than likely you will have to pay for stationery, phone, transportation, and other necessary start-up cost items long before you see donations from anywhere. Don't force the issue by putting your family income at risk simply to prove that you have “a good heart" and “just want to help". If you ignore the financial requirements for getting an NGO off the ground, you may end up being the one in need of charitable service. I have seen too many “Good Samaritans" scramble to make ends meet, because the donations they expected they did not come in, and they must keep chipping in to keep their NGO afloat.
As you can see, starting an effective non-profit takes some ground work. Be sure to do your homework. Do some research. And remember to start with an honest self-examination. Search yourself. Do you really have what it takes? Or as the Gatorade people say, “Is it in you?" If not, you may want to settle for being the dreamer, and enlist someone else to take your vision and run with it. That's OK too.