A $200,000 Ante for Nonprofit Entry?

Thursday, October 9, 2014 - 16:30

“There ought to be a rule that no new nonprofit can start until it has $200,000 in the bank,” she said.  “Every time I turn around there’s some kid just out of school telling me they want to start up an organization.”

The “she” to whom I was listening – in rapt astonishment – was a seasoned fundraising consultant, hired by many of the largest groups in her community to help them develop donors.

I thought she had lost her mind. Then I realized she had lost just her civic mind. Her worldview had narrowed to the pinched perspective that only established organizations – particularly the ones equipped to pay her fees – sit at the center of the universe.

“If you imposed that kind of rule,” I asked, “wouldn’t it dry up the stream of all those young people we’ve educated to believe that engaging in civil society – that place in America where nonprofits live – matters?” Wouldn’t a quid pro ante dampen their vision and vigor?

She didn’t have a good answer.  And I continued to dwell.

Behind every ‘established’ organization there is always an origin story. It starts with one passionate individual, or a small group, that sees a problem, believes in their ability to fix it, and takes the risk of striking out into the unknown with a fist full of faith and a few bucks. How would that narrative change if the ante for nonprofit entry was not the desire to make change for the greater good, but for $200,000 smackeroos?

That consultant didn’t connect all those nonprofits paying her invoices to the grander scheme of what makes American democracy strong. Or perhaps she just didn’t care. 

Even as we call out those who would propose such silly rules, we should also give a shout out to those groups making an impact – and there are many – who have propelled their work from early stage to significant impact on relatively small amounts of startup funding.  Looking in the Community Partners portfolio, for example, Urban TxT, SLAM! and Big Citizen Hub would stand out. These new social ventures represent ripe opportunities, led by talented people, at what appears to be a great time for success in the civic landscape.

Maybe there ought to be a rule.