The Agony and Ecstasy of Starting Your Own Nonprofit

posted May 9, 2018, 1:22 PM by Rebecca Baumann

Nonprofits are created because someone discovered a gap or someone had a passion and decided that a nonprofit (nonstock corporation) would be the best business structure.  Calls that I receive from nonprofit entrepreneurs often focus on initial funding.  Particularly in creating a new nonprofit, there is the misconception that start-up funds are available.  

While there may be unique situations when this is true, the most common experience is that startup funding comes from the founder's own personal bank account with maybe some help from board members, volunteers or friends.  When trying to locate that first grant, most foundations want to know that there is at least a small history demonstrating support from others, support from the community served, and some services and programs that are already underway.  Ironic as it is, it is easier to get funding once you have funding along with a track record of success.  

Another awful truth is that if you choose to create a nonprofit, even as the founder, the organization is no longer yours.  It becomes a public entity.  Most probably you will be chair of the board, may serve as executive director, or even be hired as executive director.  The truth is that there are term limits in the State statute that prohibit you from holding a board position for life.  Even without that, the board could vote you off or vote someone else to serve as board chair.  It is the board who hires the executive director, so that position is also not secure.  

So while you may not solicit charitable donations from foundations without your official IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, and friends cannot deduct their donations to you, as a nonprofit, you also can no longer independently determine the organization's fate.  As a for-profit business, those decisions are yours.

The nonprofit is created to serve a public mission and while you may be the parent, the child is free to grow, thrive or fail as decided by the board of directors.

Icebreaker or Ice Maker?

posted Jan 27, 2017, 7:59 AM by Rebecca Baumann

The point of a great icebreaker question is to help the group get comfortable, learn a little about each other, and, hopefully,to introduce the main topic of the day.  I was recently sent a list of great icebreaker questions and activities, and I was horrified by the list.   While the “let’s just get down to business” folks in the group may be resistant to anything, I believe a good ice breaker can be helpful and informative.

At one point in my life I was living with my sister, away from my children, and did not have a job.  I was at a community church meeting, and the leader was trying to ask a really general question in which everyone could share and get to know each other better.  The leader said, “So, just tell us where you live, a few words about your family, and what you do.”  I was mortified.  The question was definitely an ice maker for me. For everyone else in the room, I believe they were easy to answer and informative. Because of my unstable living, working, and family situation—I did not want to share.   I think about that experience whenever I am creating my own icebreaking exercise.   

The exercise should not be too long.  Do the math-- how many minutes per person times the total number in attendance?  The ice breaker is also the time to establish yourself as the timekeeper.  Put a time limit on the answers, and stick to it.  Learn to politely, but definitively to say something like, “Can you give us just two words to sum up your response?”

Consider the reason for your meeting and the reason for introductions.  How well does the group know each other—have they been meeting for years or are there many or a few new people?   Is there a general question which might give everyone some insight that could be helpful later on in the topic discussion?  I go for interesting and/or unusual and hopefully very neutral and nonthreatening.  Group participants may soon forget the real purpose of the meeting, but they will remember the woman who had a rock band during her teenage years.

Executive Director Coaching

posted Jul 8, 2016, 11:25 AM by Rebecca Baumann

With a corporate promotion, it is not uncommon for a new executive to receive coaching or professional mentoring as a side benefit for their new position.  “Helping to build stronger companies and a healthier bottom line” is the tag line for one corporate coaching certification program.

When new nonprofit executive directors (ED’s) are hired or as seasoned executive directors face yet one more yearly fundraising event; another round of grant writing; hiring, again, for a critical staff position; or wondering how to handle a disgruntled board member, there is rarely an easy place to turn for venting, counsel, or comradery.  New or seasoned ED’s are in charge of staff and are the primary organizational representative with partner organizations. For small nonprofits, they may be the personnel and development office all wrapped into one.  

Aside from weary partners and well-meaning friends, ED’s need a place to have informed and non-judgmental listening session, coaching for the difficult decisions and actions that are unique to a nonprofit, and a balanced arena where they can discuss personal and business concerns.  

Consulting for Nonprofits is now offering that service.  The take-away from this blog post is, if you are an executive director, know that your job is difficult and too often rather isolating.  Recognize that you need work-life balance and reasonable work goals to not just survive, but to thrive in the job you love.

Questions and Listening

posted Nov 28, 2015, 6:50 AM by Rebecca Baumann

As a consultant, although I come with a lot of experience and knowledge, my first job is to listen.  I listen to foundations:  Who are they, and what do they want to fund?  I listen to my client nonprofits: What do they do?  What makes them unique?  What do they need to be more successful?  I listen to the executive directors:  What are the obvious challenges in their organization?  How are they felling about their progress?  What else is happening in their lives?  And I listen to board members:  How well do they understand their roles as a board member?  Why are they serving? How much more are they willing to give?

Along with listening is learning to ask the right questions.  If we can ask the right question, the answer will more easily appear, but we need to listen—without judgement and without assuming the answers.

From this rich point of information, I can assist with the next best step.

Quite a few years ago, before the benefit of GPS, my sister and I were in an unfamiliar part of rural Ohio with what we thought were good directions to find our destination.  We were mistaken, however, about which way to turn at the end of the driveway and at the very start, headed off in the wrong direction.  Needless to say, every turn thereafter only led us into new variations of being lost.

To avoid being lost with your first steps in grant writing, board development, strategic development or job fulfillment, take some time to listen, ask good questions, and then plan your direction with informed consideration and confidence.

2015 Roadmap

posted Jan 16, 2015, 7:16 AM by Rebecca Baumann

It’s 2015, and time to review your strategic plan.

In Peter Decker’s book, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask Your Organization, he starts with looking at your mission statement and ends with asking “What is your plan?”

A great way to have a strong kick-off in 2015 is to review your strategic plan and weigh it against you mission and your action plan for the year.  

Your strategic plan should not just be that red binder on the shelf or that exercise the board went through three years ago.  (Yikes, has it already been three years?)  Your strategic plan should be your motivation, your guide, and your map to achieving your mission.  

Is your strategic plan still relevant and still providing the direction you need for evaluating current programs, starting new programs, writing grants and inspiring donors?

If you don’t have a strategic plan, decide to make that your first goal in 2015.  If you have one, read it and have the board review it.  You may be cruising down the highway, but be sure that the road you are on leads to your chosen destination.  

Benton Telecommunications Foundation

posted Jul 7, 2014, 8:38 AM by Rebecca Baumann

Rebecca Baumann is the new Grants Coordinator consulting with the Benton Telecommunications Foundation.  Grant application information is online.  Their next application deadline date is September 22.  Rebecca is looking forward to working with all of the nonprofits and units of government in the Benton Telecommunication area to generate more applications and great projects.  She will be attending the July 24 MCN Networking Meeting in St. Cloud to talk more about the new deadlines.

Thank You 2013

posted Dec 19, 2013, 8:28 AM by Rebecca Baumann

Seasonal tip:  It’s not too late for one last appeal to your donors.  Many people make donations during the holidays and before the end of the tax year.  Thank them for all they have done, reassure them that you have made a difference, and with they help, you can do even more.
 
And on a personal note:  Thank you so much for working with me and helping to make my year one of personal and professional growth.  I feel good about being able to contribute to the amazing world of the nonprofits, and I am proud to have been a part of helping your organization achieve their goals.
 
May we jointly help create a prosperous and more loving world in 2014.

Reflection and Gratitude

posted Nov 26, 2013, 6:17 AM by Rebecca Baumann

Take a moment to consider the abundance that we have experienced this year.  Whether the budget has been tight or the big grant finally came through, your work as a nonprofit has provided a little more caring, a few more answers, and a bright spot in someone's life.  Thank you.

$10,000 Award for Nonprofit Revenue Innovation

posted Jul 14, 2013, 9:58 AM by Rebecca Baumann


I believe we will be seeing more incentivized prize competitions.  The sponsoring organization gets a wealth of new ideas.  The competition gets the opportunity to put put their best thinking into the application, and the winner, well, they get the prize.

Eide Bailly recently announced its newly created Resourcefullness Award, honoring unique and inventive revenue-generation efforts of nonprofits in Minnesota with a $10,000 general operating award. 
 
Submissions will be evaluated and scored on the creativity of the revenue generating concept, the degree of implementation, how great the impact has in addressing a need, sustainability of the initiative, and judges’ overall impression of the organization’s effort. One $10,000 cash award will be made to the highest scoring entrant in Minnesota (awards also given in Arizona and Colorado).
 

Your Fundraising Plan—More than Grants

posted Jun 24, 2013, 9:43 AM by Rebecca Baumann

Many new clients ask if I write grants.  The simple answer is, “Yes.”  The best answer is, “How does grant funding fit into your overall fundraising plan?”

Foundations are required to give away five percent or more of their net investment assets in order to avoid paying excise taxes.   However, they can decide the conditions and purpose of their grant disbursements. Grants are not a guaranteed source of income; even if you believe you match their guidelines perfectly.  Grant funding is slow and generally requires six months to a year to obtain funding.  There is no guarantee if you do receive funding that you will receive the full requested amount, and repeat funding may be prohibited.

You should, however, be aware of foundations that provide funding in your area and for your type of nonprofit; and writing grants definitely should be a part of your overall plan.

You cannot eat only one food and expect your body to receive all of the nutrients it needs.  Every financial planner will recommend diversifying your investments. And every wise and stable nonprofit will have a diversified funding plan.  An exclusive diet of grant funding is unbalanced and risks future financial emergencies.

Healthy nonprofits have a robust donor base and have learned how to engage and grow their personal donations.  Whenever possible, consider your earned income opportunities.  Yes, you can sell services and products that are relevant or related to your mission.

Fundraising events should be carefully studied to determine the real cost, the real profit, and the real reason for the event.  Hopefully your event actually shows a profit and is worth all of the time and effort.  If it only breaks even, or, heaven forbid, it loses money; has it at least been a good marketing tool or friend raising event?

Write those grants—yes; but don’t neglect other dependable and longer lasting income streams. 

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