My recommendation is to find an effective organization, one that is doing good work, one you are passionate about and join it. Help make it better and stronger by contributing hard work with a listening and learning attitude.
Maybe I can set this in context. 2009 was a pivotal year for BuildaBridge. Due to the economic crisis, and a rethinking of our strategy, we laid off 3 employees and downsized our office. We were forced, more immediately, to evaluate (even though we do a lot of assessment) the effectiveness of our programming, the needs for our services, and the primary goal of our work. In 1997, when we began BuildaBridge there were very few organizations that provided the kind of training and services we were providing. This led us to do our research project in 2002 which covered 61 artists of faith in 16 US cities. Today, arts for education, healing, social services and development is much more common, along with training at the workshop, certificate and graduate levels.
Non-profit work is tough, especially when one works with the very vulnerable of our society. Generally, people who want to begin a non-profit do so out of a motive to serve others. I believe motivation is key in whether to start out on one’s own, or work under the umbrella of another organization. Frankly, I see a lot of people wanting to begin non-profits out of a desire to have something that they can call their own, have some autonomy in making decisions regarding what they consider to be innovative approaches, and a desire to lead. No doubt much of this desire is driven by our culture’s value of individualism. We are inspired by the individual efforts of youth that result in movements like Alex’s Lemonade Stand, or the work of Hollywood Stars who have the resources.
My recommendation is to find an effective organization that is doing good work, one you are passionate about and join it. Help make it better and stronger by contributing hard work with a listening and learning attitude. Most of the people I work with are not aware of the legal, financial and organizational resources needed to maintain a 501(c)3 organization, or of the competition for resources. The responsibility and sheer paperwork can pull the organization into a cycle of maintaining itself at the expense of providing good services. Starting a non-profit literally is a life-time commitment to an idea and continual contribution of personal resources. Having said that, if someone is passionate about an idea, sees a need that is not being met, and wants to make a difference, they should start small, start where they are or can be, and seek the help of others–especially the community where they live. One does not have to have a legally registered non-profit to begin an art class for kids in their neighborhood, offer technology classes for seniors, or other services to those in need. If a small idea takes hold, it will naturally grow into something larger, more formal, and attract others in a growing movement of good.