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2019

Passion can be a powerful motivator for startup entrepreneurs. And for those starting a nonprofit business, passion is particularly important.

 

“Passion has to drive the individual or the nonprofit will fail,” said Jill Dominguez, the founder and CEO of Essergy, a consulting firm for nonprofits. “If you start a nonprofit thinking you will get rich, you’re starting it for the wrong reason.”

 

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Some of us discover our passion early in life—for others it comes later—after accumulating a lifetime of experience and knowledge. That is what happened to Brett Weiss, the founder and director of the Weiss Scholarship Foundation.

 

In 2009, Weiss, an Illinois native, then 59, headed to Dago, a small (population 3,000) village in Kenya. Weiss, in his second go-round of being a teacher (he sandwiched a career in software sales in between teaching gigs), had “always wanted to go to Africa and volunteer.” In fact, Weiss says, that’s why he returned to teaching in 2004—so he could have his summers free.

 

But like many of us, Weiss kept making “lousy excuses for not going.” Finally, a “health scare” in 2007 (thyroid cancer) gave him the “kick in the butt” he needed to join Village Volunteers and go to Dago.

 

Most residents of Dago, Weiss says, live in mud huts, without electricity or plumbing. The average family income is less than $2 a day. AIDS has decimated much of the adult population and Weiss says most children don’t have two living parents. Anyone experiencing that would be affected, but as a long-time educator, “I had to do something to help,” he said

 

He came back from Dago and got his students involved. They took on new projects every semester, including buying a cow for the village.

 

As he was preparing for his second trip in 2011, he wanted to do something “more substantial.” Drawing on his passion for education, he created the Weiss Scholarship Foundation to try to “end the cycle of extreme poverty.” At that time, most kids in Dago never went past 4th grade. High school is not free in Kenya, and most families can’t afford to send their kids. The Foundation awards high school scholarships—the first student who got a scholarship is attending university today.

To date, the Weiss Scholarship Foundation has awarded 54 four-year high school scholarships. They just started sending some of the kids who aren’t college-bound to vocational schools.

 

That’s the passion play. But what about business?

 

Weiss had never run a company before, but his father was an entrepreneur, so he was familiar with business ownership.

 

At the beginning, he did not form his own 501(c) (3) nonprofit. He “piggybacked” on another nonprofit that handled the donations, tax credits and legal and accounting issues. Weiss’s brother, a successful CEO and venture capitalist , came with him on his fifth trip to Dago—and the brothers decided to create an organization to help even more Kenyan children and become an enduring foundation—one that would last beyond Weiss’s lifetime.

 

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Weiss had to up his game. This is common among founders of nonprofits, Dominguez said. “The majority of nonprofits are started on a shoestring budget with money invested by the founders.” Indeed, up until a year ago, Weiss paid 100% of the operating expenses, adding up to about $70,000 of his savings.

 

Weiss started his own 501 (c) (3) in 2018. He admittedly knew “very little” about running a nonprofit. In the last two years he’s been on a “crash course to try to learn as much as I can. I really think of myself as an entrepreneur.”

 

He’s applied the business skills from his software sales experience—“I make lots of cold calls, on the phone and in person. Every day I repeat a line I heard so many times when I was in sales, ‘Every time you get a no, you are just one step closer to the yes.’”

 

The most challenging aspect of running the foundation for Weiss is balancing the “two parts of the job.  One is running the day-to-day operations and the other is doing short-term and long-term fundraising,” he said. “If I spend too much time on the operations part, then we are not raising enough money.”

 

Dominguez says most nonprofit startups find raising money to be their biggest challenge.  “Can you [continually] ask for money to achieve your mission? This is a different animal than starting a business. You are asking for a cause, not selling the latest tools,” she said. “You have no widget, just a belief in changing the world.”

 

To become “more professional,” Weiss turned to his network. He formed a Board of Directors (a legal requirement) and an Advisory Board, consisting of his former students. Another former student built his website for free; and one of his board members designed marketing materials.

 

Get 7 Tips on Choosing and Using Board Advisors from Carol Roth

 

If you want to help, go here.

 

The Questions to Ask Yourself

 

Do you have what it takes to start a nonprofit? Here are a list of questions Weiss asked himself before he plunged into launching a nonprofit.

 

  • I have this great idea; how can I make it real and successful?
  • Where am I going to get money?
  • What are my goals and what is my plan to make them a reality?
  • I will need help from people on the ground in Kenya. How am I going to get this help?
  • I am going to have to go to Kenya on a regular basis. How am I going to pay for this?
  • There will be other expenses. How am I going to pay for this?
  • How do I make sure this organization is always providing first-class service on a very limited budget?
  • How do I communicate with my donors and work to insure they will donate again?
  • How am I going to market this foundation with very limited resources?
  • How am I going to do this while I work my full-time job? I still need  income coming in?

 

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About Rieva Lesonsky

 

Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

Do you want to give back? Pay it forward? Change the world?

 

There are many ways to accomplish that. In the business world, many with those goals decide to start a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization.

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Navigating the world of nonprofits can be tricky. To learn more, I talked to Jill Dominguez, the founder and CEO of Essergy, a consulting firm for nonprofits about what it takes to be a nonprofit entrepreneur.

 

Rieva Lesonsky: In general, why do people start nonprofits?

 

Jill Dominguez: For the same reasons people start businesses—they see a problem and want to solve it. The same business principles apply, but your income is derived from getting donations and your success is measured by performance and trust. You don’t pay taxes on income, but you’re still operating a business—making payroll, paying payroll taxes, insurance, employee benefits, etc. A 501 (c) (3) is a tax status, not a profit margin indicator.

The biggest difference is you are selling a cause, not a widget.

 

Lesonsky: How do you get paid?

 

Dominguez: Salaries for executive directors of nonprofits are far below those of for-profit CEOs in similar fields. An executive-level salary review is required annually by nonprofits. IRS regulations keep your salaries and expenditures in line. A nonprofit has the American public to answer to as shareholders and the IRS as the “hall monitor.”

 

Lesonsky: When starting a nonprofit, what factors should you consider?

 

Dominguez: Questions to ask yourself before taking the plunge:

 

        • Know the need—and the market. Are you solving a problem that is already addressed by other nonprofits? Is what’s really needed a good volunteer and more money? Do your homework!
        • If the need is not being met, what’s the best usage of your time and effort? Should you serve on a Board of Directors and make that unmet need part of the mission of an existing nonprofit?
        • Assess your passion. Are you willing to work numerous unpaid hours, invest startup funds for your 501 (c) (3) application, learn a new skill set, new business operation rules, tax rules, accounting policies, answer to a Board of Directors? Non-profits are not for the faint of heart.

 

The real question is—can you ask for money? This is not as easy as it sounds. My rule is, “no blinking, no blushing.” If you believe in your cause enough to convince others to give you money and can spend it wisely and solve the problem you are promising to address, then go for it!

 

Lesonsky: Are there go/no go signs startup nonprofits should look for?

 

Dominguez: Yes, market drivers. Is the societal problem you are trying to solve best served by a nonprofit or are you crossing into business income territory? Do you need a 501 (c) (3) to develop a cure for what ails society? Do you need a nonprofit to tutor kids in reading or will a new education for-profit model do the same thing? Can you honestly say your nonprofit is serving a mission for public benefit that should be tax free? If in doubt, ask an expert.

 

Lesonsky: What’s the biggest challenge in starting a nonprofit?

 

Dominguez: Raising money.

 

Lesonsky: How are most nonprofits initially funded?

 

Dominguez: They’re self-funded. It takes about 18 months to get approved for 501 (c) (3) tax status and a professional to complete an application for nonprofit status. While you are waiting for approval you musttell funders all donations are pending a charitable contribution receipt. Or a fiscal agent can manage your startup.

 

Lesonsky: You’re a nonprofit guru. When you initially meet with nonprofit entrepreneurs, do you have a good idea if they’re going to succeed?

 

Dominguez: Yes, it only takes me a couple of hours. Here’s what I look for:

 

          • Do you know the problem you intend to solve?
          • Do you know your audience (those you’re helping and those who will fund you)?
          • Do you have the passion?
          • Do you have a “true believer” attitude?
          • Are you fearless?

 

I look for honesty, integrity and trust. Nonprofits are transparent. I check up on everyone. My reputation is at stake if I take you on as a client.

 

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About Rieva Lesonsky

 

Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

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