As an entrepreneur, chances are you have a wide variety of interests in addition to your primary business. Maybe you’re a shoe store owner but also interested in starting a CPA firm someday. Maybe you’re the founder of an Internet marketing agency but would love to launch a pet store in a few years. Or maybe you want to go in a different direction altogether…into the non-profit world.
Is it possible to run a non-profit while also operating your primary business? To find out, I called up three experts. Here’s what they had to say.
In 1994, Vivian Glyck launched Glyck Communications, a marketing communications firm in San Diego. Eight years later, she gave birth to a son, but suffered miscarriages in subsequent years and the experience changed her feelings of purpose. “I suddenly wanted to help children and began learning about issues coming out of Africa—terrible AIDS and Malaria epidemics affecting children—and wondered why it wasn’t on the nightly news,” she says.
Glyck offered her marketing expertise to organizations specializing in African development, but none seemed interested. In mid-2005, she grew interested in the plight of young Ugandans and traveled to the East African country. There, she visited the Bishop Asili Health Centre in Luwero, Uganda and was shocked by the extreme need. In May 2006, she launched Just Like My Child Foundation to help the people of Uganda—also while continuing to operate Glyck Communications. She admits this was difficult, but powered through until early 2008 when she went full-time with the non-profit.
Since its inception, Just Like My Child Foundation has helped rebuild a hospital, build six schools, aid more than 5,000 individuals in microenterprise, and teach women and children about empowerment and civil rights, according to Glyck. The organization employs five contract workers in the U.S. and seven people in Uganda.
Here are Glyck’s words of wisdom:
Join an already-formed organization
Launching a non-profit can take just as much time (possibly more) than launching a for-profit company, she says. So instead of taking a solo leap, research existing organizations that align with your passion and see if your business can help them out.
Look at your network
“Is your personal network—the top 100 people you have around—strong enough to help you build and raise money for those first couple years? I see non-profits fail because they don’t have a proper support system,” she says.
Create a mission statement
Make sure you are “crystal clear” on what you want to accomplish with your organization, Glyck advises. “Once you have your mission statement and know where you want the organization to be in 20 years, hire an attorney to do the initial filing for a 501c3,” she says.
Build a board
Take your top 100 people and talk to a few about joining a board of directors for your organization.
Over in Long Beach, New York, Beth Zimmerman is a successful strategy consultant. She runs Celebellas, LLC, a consulting firm and has for the past eight years, but one day in late 2009, she came up with an idea for a non-profit.
“I am a huge animal lover and also have a deep sense of patriotism but those two streams of passion never collided; then I thought that with one act of pet adoption, I could transform two lives in a very positive way,” she says.
A few months later she launched Pets for Patriots, an organization that matches veterans with at-risk shelter cats and dogs. “We make pet adoption affordable for veterans and service members, we offer discounted access to veterinary care, and we offer direct, long-term financial support for the pet owners,” says Zimmerman.
Pets for Patriots is now in more than 20 states and Zimmerman is working around 80 hours per week.
Here are her tips:
Make sure your idea is a non-profit idea
Your vision may be best executed in a for-profit form, instead of a non-profit, Zimmerman says. She recommends doing research (here are a few great books on the topic: Starting and Building a Non-Profit: A Practical Guide and How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas) and talking to others already in the field.
Ask for free stuff
Legal advice is essential when starting a non-profit, and according to Zimmerman, many firms have a yearly pro bono quota. “You don’t want to do your own lawyering; apply at your local law firm to be considered for pro bono work,” she offers.
This also goes for Web designers, marketers and financial advisors—they may all be willing to help if you just ask.
Zimmerman recommends checking out Google Grants, a program that can give non-profits free online advertising; and Salesforce Foundation, which can grant customer relationship management enterprise licenses for qualifying organizations.
Chicago resident Stacy Ratner has spent time as both an entrepreneur and non-profit founder, but not all at once. A Brandeis alumni, Ratner started several small businesses before launching Open Books in 2006. The organization is dedicated to fighting Chicago’s overwhelming literacy crisis (53 percent of city adults read at or below a fourth grade level) with youth reading and writing enrichment programs. In addition, it operates a 5,000-square-foot bookstore in the city’s River North neighborhood.
Here are Ratner’s tips for wannabe non-profit founders:
Understand the time commitment
The biggest misconception about launching a non-profit: it takes less time than a for-profit business. This is incorrect, Ratner says. “It’s not just about the money, there is an extra emotional pressure that you are trying to help a certain population; there are also weird legal things with a non-profit that you need a lawyer to take you though.”
Treat it like a business
Non-profits are different than for-profits only in tax standing, Ratner says. “You need an executive summary and a business plan; you need to take marketing seriously; you need to have a website—basically, you need to do all the things that make a business work to be perceived legitimately,” she says.