11 things I learned in 2011 about starting a Non-Profit


I hear over and over again that I need to write a book about starting a non-profit from scratch and somehow becoming a full-time fundraiser at the same time. If I had time to breathe at all I’d be glad to do that. Might be a nice money maker for my non-profit. However, for now, a top eleven list  that reads like my very own eBook will have to suffice. i.e. this is a long one. You may want to re-heat your coffee. 

11. People scoff when you say you’re a stay at home mom.

It’s like saying “Nothing good can come from Nazareth.” I had to work really hard to develop a persona and a reputation that included all of my job titles to get people to listen to me. I learned really quickly when to wear heels. For some reason, when I shared I wasn’t working outside the home right now and I don’t receive a salary all of my footing was lost. They looked at my like I was just some do-gooder on a PTO budget with a pipe dream. I had to establish credibility and authority for people to take me seriously. I also had to prove I am an exceptional woman. When I say I’m going to do something or have a goal you better believe I’m going to do it.  And with pearls and Chanel No. 5 to boot.

10. Boundaries

Non-profits and actually any type of start-up don’t have normal operating business hours. None of the people I met with this year work for me. They all have full time jobs or responsibilities. I started out meeting whenever they could. 7 a.m. when I should be getting my family up and ready for the day, 9 p.m. when I should be home putting my kids to bed,  4 p.m. when I was suppose to be picking up kids from school. And then of course working all day long with the people who were only available 9-5. And then writing grants and researching fundraising, and trying to make contact on the weekends, and visiting churches, speaking at retreats, etc. I burned out after 6 months of that jazz. I learned that I couldn’t make it happen in 24 hours. I had to be disciplined enough to keep boundaries for my family.

9. If you want something done, do it yourself.

However, if you want everything done well,

you may need to hire someonewho knows what they are doing. 

This past year I learned to get past my pride and my  pocket book and outsource my weaknesses. Because they are many. I consider myself a lifelong learner but some things I just couldn’t learn fast enough. Or my frustrations slowed down the process. Or I could just care less about the particular job needing done. I could make it happen but it might look and sound like a preschooler  did it. There was no way I could get the attention I needed if we didn’t put out quality pieces. (no offense my little friends)

8. Beggars can be choosers.

I had to constantly remind myself that  this mission was hand delivered by God. He is mighty, and beautiful, and powerful, and holy, and pure. I want my organization to reflect those qualities. I had to gracefully turn down some support and donations because it just wasn’t a good match. I have had to run away from some potential manpower because again, they just didn’t match the mission and vision. If my expectation was quality, then the outcome should be quality.

7. If I don’t feel sick to my stomach than

I may not be acting in faith or being bold enough.

Stepping into what God has planned for our community has been one the most powerful tools He has used to grow my faith and trust in Him. I’ve found when I am feeling cocky and over-confident things don’t turn out like I thought I could make them turn out. They flop big time. When I have felt my weakest, or how about when I’ve surrendered to God, thrown up my hands, and yelled “I have no idea what I’m doing, you picked the wrong chick!” Then He moves mountains I didn’t even know were there.

6. Sometimes you just have to ship it and wing it. 

I felt at least 2 weeks behind on everything for the past 18 months. I would be asked to speak, “And bring your brochures.” Ok gotta make some brochures tonight. “Do you have pledge cards?” Of course, let me go print those off right after I create them. “Website needs to go live 12/23.” Um, right. I don’t have all the content but we gotta go with it. Not everything has been spelled right this year. Not everything has come out shiny and all “glammed” up. But it did go out and we’re working with what we got. I learned sometimes you just got a go with it and hope for the best.

5. It’s nothing personal, we just don’t like you in that way.

I have lost friends this year. I have people who have loved me in the past asked to be removed from our mailing lists. Others like the side of me that’s laid back, funny, and a bit air-headed. They weren’t quite sure what to do with driven, passionate, “don’t take no for an answer” side of me. I have acquaintances who I know could have given huge checks this year but they just don’t believe in the same things I do. I’ve had numerous friends and family try to talk me out of this. I have had people suggest I don’t finish things so I shouldn’t get too deep in this project. I don’t talk about it much. It hurts but it does no good. I still want the relationship even if they don’t. But I hope they understand this is something I just can’t compromise on.

4. If you have something worth saying,

chances are somebody is going to listen. 

I have a serious condition called Moses Syndrome. I hate public speaking. I’m awful at it. I have a speech impediment. I have braces. I stutter and spit. My brain sometimes goes faster than my mouth and sometimes it’s the other way around. But somehow this year I have spoken to hundreds of people about The Sparrow’s Nest mission. I have spoken to churches and ladies retreats. I have spoken to civic groups and business men. It went so well I had to set up a schedule. And then I had to add dates. I had to start scheduling into 2012. People are ready for change. People are ready to make a difference. They’re looking for something more. And they can even hear it and be inspired to move towards it through one of my weaknesses.

3. You will fail.

I’m a frustrated perfectionist. I don’t like to do things I’m not good at or that I will fail miserably. I have fallen short and fallen on my face many, many times this year. I failed people. I had failed events. I lost money. I missed deadlines.I didn’t meet my fundraising goal.  I messed up meetings and schedules. I missed opportunities. However, I did not stop. I got up after my pity party, stuck my chin out, threw my shoulders back, and said, “ok, let’s try a different way.”

2. Slow and steady wins

This one is unfortunate because I’m fast and erractic. I have the attention span of a squirrel. When I have something to say, I say or text it then because it will be gone. My nick name is Etch for Etch a Sketch. And my heart breaks every time I get yet another phone call of a young lady I am unable to help right now. My personality is “See A Need, Fill A Need, NOW!” However, I have learned from so many other entreprenuer like folk that those first out of the gate aren’t always the first one across the line. It’s imperative to build the strong foundation. It’s important to spend the tedious mind torture time building systems and policies and strategies. I’m no good to a single young mother and her tiny baby  if I’ve got nothing strong to catch them in.

1. It’s all in who you know

This is an important phenonmenon in fundraising. Fundraising is about relationships. Bottom line. However, the sense of community has been an overarching theme this year. The six degrees of separation became so apparent to me. Someone was a teen parent. Someone’s mom was a teen parent. Someone knew a teen parent. Churches named us their Jerusalem. Civic groups answered the call to help their neighbors. And then just the community of support I was surrounded by in my own neighborhood, my kid’s schools, my church, my family, and my incredibly interesting online community. The community of fundraisers and entreprenuers and small business owners. The community of service providers. The community of leaders and pastors. The community of maternity homes. I made dear friends in 2011 as a result of Sparrow starting. These are people I would have never known and now I can’t imagine life without them.

It comes down to this. My brain is exploding from all I have learned this past year. I have so much to go. But this is going to happen. I’m just trying not to get in the way.

If you have a calling, step into it with all your fears and reservations.

2012 is a great year to make something BIG happen.

Let me know how I can help you or pray for you for 2012.

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