Over the course of my career I’ve worked for three universities, two enterprise healthcare organizations, and two subsidiaries of global corporations, among others. Where I learned the most and felt the best was during my time with two different startups—including my current position.
I have never enjoyed any job so thoroughly or worked as hard as I have with Givelify. It’s very easy to get up in the morning and come to the office, to spend nights and weekends working, when I know I’m helping nonprofits put good into the world. I feel like I’m multiplying my desire to improve the lives of people and animals to an unimaginable degree.
Small nonprofits are really tech startups in different clothing—they have different missions, but their tactics are much the same. Both depend on total buy-in from their employees, long hours, a relentless drive to succeed, and a willingness to throw convention out the window.
The word “passion” gets tossed around a great deal, but it is only passion that leads to total commitment to a cause. The personal monetary rewards may be a long way off, so what keeps startups and small nonprofits moving forward is an insatiable hunger to make their ideas work.
With all that in mind, here are my four lessons for running your small nonprofit like a startup.
Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.
What if all anybody ever said was, “It’s such a shame about all these starving, neglected children,” or, “If people were meant to fly we’d have wings,” then shrugged their shoulders and moved on? Where would we be?
It’s easy to identify problems: they’re all around us. Pointing out inadequacies and injustices requires no effort. Addressing and working to fix those problems is hard, and few people are willing to put in the work.
Pointing out a problem is only the first step. In order for your nonprofit to make an impact you have to have ideas on how to fix it. Some of these ideas may not work, others may require refinement, but tangible, actionable solutions is the only way to solve problems.
It’s going to be great, you’re going to love it.
Not everyone will understand or care about your cause. Others will express negativity or concern about how you’re even going to get started. This is where your passion and the power of your belief in what is possible wins the day.
Many times you go into a project or initiative with a very loose idea of how the process or solution will be implemented. You know there is a need to be addressed, and you have an idea of how to go about it. Doubters and naysayers will question you. “You really expect that thing to fly?”
What you’re undertaking may never have been tried before, or at least not in the form or approach you’ve conceived. What matters often isn’t the process but the simple act of starting. As Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” You’ll never achieve your nonprofit goals by taking the doubts of others to heart.
Build the plane while it’s in the air.
Products are almost never released in a completed state. As people use them, changes are made, parts and systems are updated. There is always time to refine, add, subtract. Waiting until every last detail is ironed out and has a nice coat of paint ensures someone else will beat you to it.
Or maybe the problem you thought you were solving has evolved, leaving your concept hopelessly behind.
If you have a ready and willing crew, fire up the engines and take off. New issues may arise mid-flight that you couldn’t see from the ground, so the only way to address them is to get up in the air and see for yourself. Fearing how the landing will go will only keep you on the ground.
Perfection is the enemy of progress.
When you are passionate about a cause, it’s easy to get bogged down in getting every detail exactly right before releasing it into the world. After all, your cause is like your child: you brought it into the world and you want it to grow and thrive.
It’s understandable that you want to put your best face forward. The important thing about launching your cause is to get it out there and just keep moving. Inertia is strong, and dithering around making sure everything is just so will leave you immobilized.