$10,000 for a new nonprofit?

by Julianne Buck


Last night I was watching “Chopped” and a contestant was asked, “What will you do with the $10,000 if you win?”  His response: “Start a nonprofit to help the homeless.”


No. No. Please – no.


Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all for passionate people using their assets to improve the quality of life in their neighborhood.  I have nothing against helping the homeless.  But a nonprofit started with only $10,000 doesn’t have much of a chance of longevity.


We have way too many nonprofits in our country, especially the State of Illinois.  If you think we have too many units of government in Illinois, look at the quantity of nonprofits that we have, too.  It’s unbelievable.


Instead I would hope that this contestant would reach out to organizations in the region who already have programs to serve our homeless neighbors and develop a way to use his $10,000 in a way that is meaningful for him and accomplishes his goal.


I missed the beginning of the show, but I’m assuming from other comments that he was once homeless.  This is a tremendous asset – it’s often difficult or ineffective to design programs to serve a particular population without a frame of reference (Most women don’t like programs designed for us by men; I’ve worked in restaurants that were laid out poorly and probably not designed by the wait staff.  But I digress).  With his experience, he knows the mentality, thought process, struggles, and poor design of other program to address homelessness.  Combining that with his $10,000, he can design a better program that tackles a particular aspect, neighborhood, or street that has a much better chance of success.


Starting a new nonprofit is not necessarily expensive, but it is labor-intensive and most passionate people don’t want to spend time on the administration of setting up a board of directors, bookkeeping, marketing, and filing state and IRS paperwork – they want to be out and about delivering services.  This is my main reason for advocating for partnering with an established organization.  Let them handle the administration – perhaps for a small fee – and give you the freedom and guidance to deliver effective services.


Some are probably thinking “What if I don’t have a quality nonprofit in my area to partner with?”  This could easily be true.  I’ve experienced many nonprofits who aren’t big thinkers.  They perform in their box and that’s it.  If a nonprofit doesn’t get your pitch – or throws too many curveballs – move on and expand your search.  I’ve seen nonprofits partner with organizations many counties away or in other states – organizations who have the right service mentality and want to expand their territory.


I’m a huge advocate of networking.  Just start saying it out loud and others will chime in and spread the word.  Post on Facebook and LinkedIn that you’re looking for an organization who does X in Y community and you’ll get all sorts of suggestions – both helpful and not.


Having said all of that, is our contestant finished after that $10,000 is gone?  Not at all.  With some effective storytelling and proof of impact, he (and the nonprofit he’s partnering with) can cultivate more funding for the program.  Then, with more time, impact, and funding, perhaps his dream of services for his homeless brethren will become sustainable and that start-up money is the seed that grew.


To wrap up, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest his local community foundation as a potential partner – an organization where he can place his $10,000 as a donor advised fund to do good things.  However, community foundations are not always a good fit for every nonprofit situation – and I believe this is one of them.  We provide many services to donors and nonprofits and sometimes that service is simply guiding them on the most efficient path to accomplish their goal.  And sometimes we have to discourage the creation of a new nonprofit.


Julianne Buck is the Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Grundy County in Illinois.




2 thoughts on “$10,000 for a new nonprofit?”

  1. Well said, Julie. I have been involved in the start up of three non-profits and they are WORK. More work than I have the time to put in, which is why I was “involved” and not organizing. All three were developed to address specific needs and were have been very successful. One was so successful, and the need and response so great, that they needed to partner with a larger, more established non-profit to handle the work load and successfully distribute the funds collected. The amount of administrative work required to organize a non-profit is beyond most people’s understanding or expertise, and the work required to maintain the organization doesn’t go away after the excitement of doing something great. By partnering with an established organization, the administrative requirements can be shouldered by the organizational resources already in place, allowing the person or group seeking to help others to focus their efforts, and funds, on delivering the help. Grundy County is blessed with several organizations, not the least of which is the Community Foundation of Grundy County, well positioned to support the needs of our residents. By doing a little homework, a person seeking to “give back” or “pay it forward” can find an organizations ready, willing, and able to turn a donor’s philanthropic dreams into supportive reality.

  2. I would have to disagree. if I would have started GRO with $10,000 it would have just made it easier from the get go. Working and networking to raise money is part of the non profit job, and most know this and hopefully find a board member who is good at that aspect and can help.

    The one thing most organizations are missing is someone who lives or has lived in that situation. The boards are filled with well established business people in the community who want to help but have never experienced the shame, guilt, humbleness it takes to walk in to an organization and ask for food, help with rent or a utility.

    This man has lived the situation and found his way out, I feel his chance at being successful is far better than the successful person who just wants to do good. Can that person do it? sure. But do they understand all the issues facing the homeless like this man does? probably not.

    I would love to give a presentation where those that come are given one of my client’s “lives” for a couple of hours. they will learn what the person makes, what their rent and utilities are, and what they have left after bills are paid. I want them to figure out how to make ends meet. Every person involved in a non profit should understand what each person goes through, then they can really begin to help.

    I applaud this man for wanting to start an organization to address something so close to his heart, something he has experienced.

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