Breaking into the nonprofit space as an organization of color
So, you want to break into the nonprofit space as an organization of color? Great, you are in the right place!
Word of caution: There is no magical formula. You have to put the pieces together and realize that the world isn’t easy despite the heightened awareness of the “Black Lives Matter” and “Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)” movement. Though, if you’re committed, determined, and have the energy to jump through hoops and push your agenda forward, it will fall into place. There will be bumps in the road, but your determination should allow you to prevail.
So, what now? Keep reading for some basic steps.
It is interesting to note that people think of setting up a nonprofit, in general, during moments of crisis. And the last 20 odd months have been nothing but a series of crises in the United States and all over the world. In the United States alone, we have undergone a political crisis, amid a health crisis, that also saw sweeping social and societal crises, paralleled by an economic and financial crisis, resulting in countless challenges of all kinds impacting all communities particularly those in the lower economic strata.
Ever wonder what a nonprofit can do? Nonprofits have the ability to influence change and rally communities to help execute it for the benefit of all. They are change agents. For an organization of color, community involvement is a key driver.
Leaders of nonprofit organizations of color emerge during these crucial moments to help uplift, build morale, provide support, and reassure people that there are many willing to help without a “profit” motive. But this leadership in these moments of crisis can also be very challenging, demanding, and exhausting. One needs to be careful, to not overextend, to prioritize, and to organize well. Even enthusiasm and passion can backfire and have a negative impact on the individual and the organization if disorganized and unfocused.
The single most important attribute is desire, or the intent to bring about change. A simple way of looking at it is: Why are you setting up this nonprofit? What is its purpose? Is there an issue that is dear to you that you wish to resolve? Is there a problem or challenge in the community that you are trying to address? Is being an organization of color give you immediate buy-in, or does it limit you? Bringing clarity to your purpose helps you articulate and define the purpose of your nonprofit and draw volunteers to your cause and build a team of dedicated individuals. For an organization of color, building confidence in the community or beyond is important in order to 1) gain acceptance and 2) scale.
Assembling a core group of believers or volunteers can help build the core of your organization of color, and they can serve as a foundation. As you build your team, focus on the skills of your core team and how they complement each other. As a leader, it becomes your responsibility to see who can be leveraged for what purpose as you think about all the essential elements of the organization, the goals and objectives, and how they will be delivered. For an organization of color, bringing in people familiar with the community or the area, based on the focus of the organization, is a smart approach to involving the community. Find the right balance between energy, enthusiasm, and execution of the mission. It is not just a job. It is more than a job!
So, how do you fund your nonprofit? For many nonprofit organizations of color, identifying funding becomes essential. As you think of your idea and put passion to it, also be mindful of what might be sources of revenue to sustain it. Make sure you discuss and identify them early. There are the obvious sources, like city and state governments. Then there are foundations, but for newer organizations, these could be a challenge, for you may not have a track record for foundations to evaluate unless your proposal is clear. And make sure to apply for all kinds of grants and opportunities. Knowing “how” to write a grant, or a team member with experience, is helpful. And knowing how to approach and ask donors is a necessity. Asking is an art form. Make sure you know not just how to ask, but who to ask. Do your research. Cold calling is time consuming. Leverage your connections and community.
For any nonprofit to be successful, you need to create a regular buzz. For an organization of color, you need to at times scale it up. Make sure that there is a lot of buzz about the work you are doing. If you do not brag, no one else will. People need to see what you are doing. Do what you say, and say what you are doing. Talk it up! Today, social media makes it easy, yet with all the clutter of messages, you must make an effort to stand out. How you present your organization of color in creative ways on social media become markers of how people keep you in their mind. Get creative, and leave an impression (or many impressions)!
Although starting a nonprofit organization of color is not easy, don’t lose heart! There will be many naysayers, but learn to stay the course, and stay positive and upbeat.
If you’re interested in learning more, I encourage you to join The Thinkubator’s webinar with Candid on Thursday, November 11, “Breaking Into the Nonprofit Space as an Organization of Color.” We’ll walk you through how to ideate, build, and execute the implementation of an effective and successful nonprofit of color. Register for the webinar.