Heather Comstock Connects

Helping nonprofits and other volunteer organizations develop strong relationships and a clear voice in the community.

Helping One-Eyed, Six-Toed Cats and More Money Than I Know What To Do With: Nonprofit Alternatives

Do you need to start a nonprofit to serve your cause? What other options are out there? (Photo By: Wknight94 (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

Do you need to start a nonprofit to serve your cause? What other options are out there?
(Photo By Wknight94 (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve made it a personal mission in the last several years to share the start-up experience, warts and all with people so they can make an informed decision. I don’t want to frighten folks, it’s just that nonprofits aren’t all just unrestricted grant funds and happy feelings. They are expensive, the structure can be cumbersome, and they are a TON of work!

So if you’ve read my start-up series, and you’re thinking, “Whoa Nelly, that’s not for me” and you’re wondering about your options, here are two alternatives to starting up your own full-blown nonprofit organization.

A Tale of Six-Toed Cats: The Fiscal Sponsorship

Lena loves one-eyed, six-toed cats. They are historically connected to the area and she’s exhausting the limit of what she can do personally on her property to help these winsome creatures. She’s concerned that there are many more kitties she’s not able to help and a couple of her friends are also empathetic about the plight of these felines.

In the meantime, the local county animal rescue group is overwhelmed helping all the regular-toed cats, dogs, hamsters, monkeys, guniea pigs, and giant rabbits. They just don’t have the resources to address one niche group beyond their stock of regular services.

Lena is motivated and already has several friends who are willing to volunteer and donate money to the cause but they really don’t want to be on a board or wait 3 years to be able to deduct their contributions from their taxes.

In this case, Lena could approach the local animal rescue group and bring her resources to bear in exchange for their administrative support. The local group can expand their reach and address a niche need that they don’t have the time or expertise to solve.

Over at the Foundation Center, they covered the basics of Fiscal Sponsorship.  Fiscal sponsorships are a great options for several reasons. First, you don’t have to build and maintain an administrative infrastructure and get sidetracked by paperwork. Second, you can help an existing organization tackle a particular issue or concern that it otherwise may not be able to affect either because of a lack of information or resources. Third, funders love to see partnerships and groups working together and your combined strengths demonstrate a stable environment that makes your cause a worthwhile investment. Now, instead of two organizations competing for the same resources, you have one consolidated group making the world better!

That said, please don’t go pestering the local animal shelter with a half-baked idea. If you know the problem, take some time to put together a proposal and include research and proposed financials. In other words, do some of the legwork for them and make an organized case for your cause.

More Money Than You Know What To Do With: A Tale of Donor-Advised Funds

Bill Blarney hit the lottery. No seriously. He had the winning numbers to last month’s PowerBall and now has quite a tidy sum. Bill likes a simple life and after paying a few bills and sticking a little cash by for a rainy day, he’s looking at a bunch of excess money that he really doesn’t need. One can only play so much golf in a day. Bill was raised in a tough neighborhood in the city and thanks to a good education and some luck, he was able to get out and build a good solid life for himself. He thinks that his lottery winnings could do some good for people from his old neighborhood but isn’t sure how to distribute money in a way that would have meaningful impact.

In this case, Bill finds the local community foundation and creates a donor advised fund. GrantSpace has a great article on this concept and how to research ways to create one. Bill directs the foundation on the kinds of issues he would like his fund to address and the Community Foundation uses its existing grant-making processes to see that Bill’s money is granted to individuals and organizations in his former neighborhood.

What I love about working in nonprofits is the passion that people bring to making their neighborhoods and communities better places. It’s hard to dampen the enthusiasm but that’s exactly what will eventually happen over time as these passionate folks get bogged down writing by-laws and conflict of interest statements. The real question to ask is “What is the change I want to create?” and take a look at whether or not one of these two alternatives would be an option for your cause!

By the way, if you haven’t checked out the completely hilarious, slightly irreverant (okay more than slightly), but absolutely dead-on blog of Vu Le, go over there now! Vu also blogs for Blue Avocado which is a great clearinghouse for nonprofits.

Are you in the Hagerstown area and want to know more about starting a nonprofit? I’ll be presenting at the Washington County Free Library on October 8th!

Photo of one of the famous six-toed cats at the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. By Wknight94 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


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