Is a Nonprofit the right road for you? 

Are you considering starting a nonprofit? Pam Cannell from BoardBuild breaks down the road map for deciding if a nonprofit is the best road for you to take.  

You see a problem, you think you have a solution, so you say to yourself, “I think we should start a new nonprofit.” 


Do you have a unique solution? First you should verify that your ideas are different from the more than 7000(!!!) nonprofit organizations already operating in Tarrant County and, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the United States. Surely the mission and services provided by your new nonprofit will not overlap with any of these existing organizations, right? Are you certain you are better equipped to deliver excellent programming to your community, amongst other things?

Click here to search for existing nonprofits that may already be providing services similar to what you are proposing.  


Did you know the life expectancy of a new nonprofit is 2 years? What’s more, the survival rate of a nonprofit after 5 years is only 2-3%. But you feel confident that “if you build it, they will come.. In fact, you might already have support from family and friends who are willing to help you get started. You may have already secured funding that will contribute to your cause. That is a great start, but it does not necessarily mean your nonprofit will succeed in the long-term.   


This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road.  It is now time for you and your friends to roll up your sleeves and begin to lay the groundwork for your unique road map.  Your first step is to very carefully look both ways, again. How many existing organizations (nonprofits, government programs, etc.) are already providing services similar to what you’re proposing? Is the work you propose solving a symptom of a bigger societal problem? Does it actually address and treat the root cause?  


If you are not addressing systems change then the likelihood of being able to prove lasting impact is minimal, jeopardizing your ability to fundraise.  With lack of consistent funding, adequate staffing will be difficult and volunteers will become exhausted.  You must do your due diligence by conducting a needs assessment and building a model to determine your inputs, outputs, outcomes and impact prior to bringing this nonprofit to fruition. 


If your proposed scope of work will not result in community behavior modification and does not address systems change then it’s time to take all of your great energy, ideas and funding to support one of the thousands of nonprofits already doing great work in our community. 


If indeed you have developed a model and conducted a needs assessment proving a unique value proposition that will create long-term systemic change, then it’s time to muster your energy and build a comprehensive business plan.   


Your comprehensive business plan will have identified partners with whom you can provide mutual benefit, stakeholders, and funders.  You can now merge and begin to gain speed to reach the goals and objectives stated in your model. Through partnership and collaboration you will not only advance your own mission, but you will begin to create a ripple of change in your community. 

As you can see, there are many traffic conditions to consider before embarking on your journey. Review the nonprofit roadmap to ensure your idea has the potential to advance systems change, can weather the storms of uncertainty, and ultimately prevail. If you have concerns about long-term sustainability, this is your opportunity to combine resources and efforts with a nonprofit organization who is already doing good work in your community.

About the Author

Pam Cannell has dedicated her entire career to nonprofit leadership and board governance, playing an active role in the nonprofit community for more than  25 years. As the CEO of Fort Worth-based BoardBuild (a Sparkyard Resource Partner), she’s on a mission to strengthen communities through the training and matching of leaders with qualified nonprofit boards. BoardBuild envisions a world where diverse, trained leaders and organizations unite and foster stronger communities in which to work, play, and grow.

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