Our job at the Idaho Nonprofit Center is to support our nonprofit sector, share knowledge, convene training opportunities, to provide professional development, and to champion the work of our sector through policy & advocacy. It’s a tall order, quite frankly, considering that we too are a nonprofit organization with a small staff, a budget to match, and the need to find creative ways to fund our operations in order to do “all the things” we should do.
A large part of our membership, as well as the bulk of technical assistance calls and emails we receive, are usually nonprofits in the “start-up” or “emerging” phase of the nonprofit life cycle. We understand, it’s tricky and not always easy to navigate the process. There’s good reason for that.
Recently I hosted a Resource Thursday training on "Starting a Nonprofit" and the first thing I usually do is to try to talk you out of it. True story. But when I try to talk people out of starting nonprofits, it comes from a place of love – and experience. If you are curious about my message you can listen to recorded broadcast from Resource Thursday by clicking this link. There is also a recent post on Board Source about this topic. According to the article “there now are 1.8 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S. Fewer than 15 percent have operating budgets over $250,000.”
Nonprofits are always created from a place of love, a heart full of good intentions. A passionate person wants to start something to do something to help the community. What they don’t realize is all the work that goes into starting that nonprofit and the inevitable hard decisions that need to be made
Making Hard Choices
I made hard decisions when starting and running my own nonprofit. I want to tell you what I learned from my experience having started the Cause + Event Foundation in Oregon in 2012 and I hope that this can be helpful to you.
The Cause + Event Foundation hosted a 5K/10K race series designed to raise money for the nonprofit of the participants choosing. The Foundation donated at least half of each race registration to the cause of the runner’s choosing. We endeavored to raise as much money as we could for as many causes as we could in as many communities as we could.
Over the weekend our nonprofit organization made the painful announcement that we would be ceasing operations within the year. It is time to step aside. This was not a sudden decision, but one that has been in the works for a while but it was hard to say good bye. It was hard to admit that I failed and hard to disappoint people but it had to be done.
I feel a significant amount of trepidation in telling you about closing the doors to the Cause + Event Foundation. I wasn’t even sure that I should share this story with you, but I hope that by me sharing this story with you there are things to be learned that could benefit all sizes of organizations, not just the little guys who are barely getting started. Here goes:
Lesson #1: You Must be a Unicorn
Lesson #2: Check Your Ego at the Door
Lesson #3: Plan for Growth
Lesson #4: Fundraise Constantly
Lesson #5: Command a Basic Understanding of Nonprofit Law and Financial Management
Lesson #6: Don't be afraid to Ask for Help
Lesson #7: Identify the Resources you Need
Lesson #8: A Good Board will make of Break your Organization
Lesson #9: Nonprofits are Small Businesses with a Killer Tax Code
Lesson #10: Don't be Afraid to Walk Away
While I like to think I have a fairly good base of knowledge for nonprofits and organizational management, and I do, I still wasn’t able to put it all into practice as effectively as I could and should have. It boiled down to the very last lesson I can share:
I am deeply saddened for the loss of the nonprofit I worked so hard to start but I know that it will live on in a different way, in a different state, with members of my board who will keep the dream alive. I know that I am stepping aside and leaving it in the most capable hands possible. Five years of operation is almost a monumental feat for a small, all volunteer-run nonprofit like the Cause + Event Foundation.
My final thought is this: remember that nonprofit organizations are for-good organizations. Every day nonprofits, large and small, contribute in measurable and immeasurable ways to our communities, enhancing our quality of life, and supporting our community’s most vulnerable citizens. I thank every one of you for the gifts and talents you bring to your organization and the passion that you have for service.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve you here at the Idaho Nonprofit Center and I hope that I can be as valuable to you as you are to us.
We hope you find these resources beneficial. We welcome suggestions on how we can improve this section. Contact us at