By Louisa Hackett - Every year CRE gets dozens of calls from people who want to start a non-profit. And, every year we hear other people say, there are too many nonprofits already, why do we need another one starting-up? Isn’t there an organization that does that already? Why support a new, untested organization when so many exist already? And, why establish a new organization now when the economy is so bad and so many existing nonprofits are having a hard time making it.
There is truth on both sides of the to start or not to start argument. On the one hand, New York City does have 9,000 non-profit organizations with annual revenue over $25,000. In fact, nonprofits employ 500,000 people, comprising 14% of New York City’s work force. You would think with this many organizations there would not be a need to create another one.
And, larger financially stable organizations often have the infrastructure and know how to support sound programs. Sometimes larger is better because economies of scale allow for lower cost per service as well as the ability to attract more professional staff.
But, larger isn’t always right. Established organizations aren’t always innovative and risk-taking. Some organizations become more focused on protecting the organization itself and less focused on why they got started in the first place. Raising the annual budget becomes a primary goal which can lead to mission drift and growth by requests for proposals. And, size can create too large a distance from the ground to really know what is happening and needed.
New and smaller can often be better. There continues to be unrealized opportunities, unmet needs and issues not being addressed by existing organizations.
Think about the history of the AIDS epidemic. GMHC was established by individuals recognizing and responding to an unknown disease among their friends. More recently, After Hours was started because AIDS prevention work at an established, larger organization was occurring from 9 to 5, not during the hours when the people needing to be served could be reached more easily. A new nonprofit with a different perspective was able to address unmet needs.
The question is not whether there too many non-profits exist or whether there are too many new organizations. The important questions are whether the idea or program being developed is a good one, addresses an unmet need and has the leadership to get the work accomplished.
For anyone interested in finding out whether their vision has what it takes to start a viable nonprofit, please sign up for one of CRE’s Spring 2010 Start-up Workshops.