Takeaways from the discussion include:
*Funders might think there are too many nonprofits asking them for money.
*Nonprofits might think there are too many competitors for donors’ money.
*Politicians might think there are too many nonprofits depriving them of tax revenue.
Does there seem to be a theme going on here? Yes, money is important. In fact, it is, in just about everyone’s mind, the #1 item on the list of absolutely essential things a nonprofit needs. Ahead of good boards, ahead of staff, maybe even ahead of people to help and problems to solve in some cases.
How does that relate to having too many nonprofits? Well, in my experience money is also the thing that might keep nonprofits from working together to accomplish more than they could alone, maybe even merging.
Part of the Urban Institute discussion centered around nonprofit collaboration and consolidation and whether that would increase impact and provide better outcomes. Someone on the panel pointed out that, as nonprofits seeking financial support, we are obligated to see ourselves as unique entities, with unique programs and audiences, and we must sell the idea that if we go out of business (we feel) there will be a huge gap in services.
So perhaps the question of whether there are too many nonprofits really comes down to whether there are too many to support with philanthropy and other funding sources.
I still think there are just too many, because my real beef with all of this is the fact that. . .
It is too easy to start a nonprofit, and too many nonprofits are started for the wrong reasons
(actually said to me over the years):
· #1 Reason:“I need a job.” (Oh good grief, you can’t really think this is going to make money for you right off the bat, can you?)
· “I can do things better than anyone else is doing them.” (Even though you’ve never worked at a nonprofit before? Never built a board? Never raised money from individuals?)
· “I want to be somebody.” (Power’s fine, but what you really need is passion, for the mission AND for the management. It's not about you. This is a business.)
And the one I hear often:
· “I want to make the world a better place.” (That’s great, if you are prepared to do more with less and move mountains in the process. Oh, and be one of the few who survive and succeed – because 90+% of all startups fail in the first year.)
If for some reason all of this still sounds good, I applaud you and encourage you to make your dream happen. Your mind and your heart are in the right place. But before you apply for a (501)(c)(3), take a look around. Can you be more effective by helping and supporting another nonprofit whose mission is your mission? Can you seek out your local nonprofit center or volunteer organization and learn what it takes to create an effective board, how to position your organization for philanthropy, even how to write good bylaws that protect the organization and hold board members accountable, or (my favorite) how to read financials?
What do you think?
One parting word of advice: don’t put Mom and Dad, your cousin Sylvia and Uncle Fred on the board. You can’t fire your Mom when she turns out not to be board material. Well, you can, but you'll be sorry.