Do we really need more non-profits?
Help! There is a non-profit like the one I want to start and everyone says I should just help them!
By Tim Schuster
As an organization that helps startup non-profits, we sometimes overhear something that goes a little like this:
“Is there a similar non-profit in town? Why don’t you just join their cause?”
Buzz kill! If you have a dream and a vision, even this well-intentioned question can be discouraging.
The reasoning is often sound: Resources are limited and scarce, could you be taking away from them, especially if ‘your thing’ doesn’t work?
However, in addition to how this makes a potential non-profit founder feel, the truth is that the question is based on a worldview of scarcity and limitations. It’s myopically small. And it misses the point completely.
We’ve worked with many non-profit (and small business) leaders. People of all ages who have an idea and vision. They can’t wait to get started assembling a board, writing a mission statement, running their program – and even fundraising. But somewhere along the line they got stuck because someone implied they are copycats and should conserve resources by not starting a new organization.
Three reasons to completely disregard this feedback.
Reason #1: We need entrepreneurs to try new things.
What if everyone didn’t do something because other people are already doing it? On just about any scale, we can see how this is limiting to growth and innovation. As a society and economy, we need to sow seeds wherever they might grow, but what better way to test the soil than to throw a few seeds on the ground? We don’t have control over many variables that account for success, but we can control how often we try. As a social entrepreneur, you are a necessary one-of-many, with emphasis on the necessary!
Reason #2: Competition is good.
A little competition brings out the best in us, including non-profits! If another organization with a similar mission is forced to make strategic changes because of a scrappy incumbent, that’s a good thing for everyone. To put it another way: How many established and comfortable non-profits would benefit from something that forced them to make innovative improvements? Healthy competition is good and it brings out the best in everyone.
Reason #3: But mostly: They Are Not YOU.
And you aren’t them. Your mission may be similar. You may be tackling similar issues (poverty, mental health, etc.). Or working with similar demographics (youth, veterans, etc.). But the truth is the one variable that matters: They are not you. You are not them. Of course, there are similar non-profits as what you’re dreaming about, but the truth is that you have a vision for how it can be better, quicker, more efficient, etc.
So when someone asks about joining another non-profit instead of starting your own, simply repeat silently to yourself, “But they aren’t me!” You are unique. And they are simply not you. We (all of us) need you to pursue your dream!