Organizing and Nonprofits

12 Oct

A few thoughts on this.

1. If you ask people for money, either organizationally or as an individual, say thank you. The more you personalize this the more effective it will be. People love feeling valued and appreciated. They will forgive you for a multitude of sins if you do this for them.
2. Don’t organize as a nonprofit that runs an enterprise unless there is some clear financial benefit to doing so. If you work on your own or as a private enterprise or club, your reporting obligations will be many fewer and public expectations much less as well. Nonprofits are commonly suspected of being up to no good and expected to be completely transparent, even beyond legal requirements. If you look like you’re hiding anything people will hang you with it whether you deserve it or not. Do not assume the public in general understands how nonprofits work. There is a tendency to believe that the nonprofit just collects money and the people running it pay themselves tax-free. There is also a tendency to believe there is money hidden. Even if you are completely transparent people will want to argue with you about the money because it makes them feel more involved. Find better ways for them to be involved. An overly passive membership will not feel the same kind of commitment and involvement and will be more likely to devote themselves to power plays.
3. It is okay to have paid staff. It may be a big improvement on overworked and cranky volunteer managers. But again, people will want to know who they are paying and what their responsibilities are and how accountable the paid staff will be.
4. Make your financial statements public. Do this whether you are legally required to or not. Publish profit and loss and income statements, not just lists of things. See number 2.
5. If this all sounds too overwhelming, don’t organize as a nonprofit. Sole proprietorships and clubs and other less formal groups can do lots of good work and public perception of them involves much less suspicion. And gift income to individuals is tax-free up to a certain point. But even if you don’t organize as a non-prof, even if there are security reasons that preclude financial transparency, see number 1.

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