The Reality Check: 5 Reasons to NOT Start Your Own Nonprofit

Do you dream of starting your own nonprofit? You are not alone. The desire to make a positive impact is commendable; many people share this aspiration. As a nonprofit professor and leadership consultant, I’ve encountered numerous students, alumni, and colleagues eager to embark on their mission to help others and contribute to their communities. However, before you dive headfirst into the world of nonprofit entrepreneurship, let me offer you a reality check with five reasons NOT to move forward. And be sure to read the whole blog and you will see how I connect this to mindful leadership. 1. Lack of Originality Let’s face a hard truth – in the nonprofit world, original ideas are rare. If you doubt this, try inputting your mission into a database like More often than not, you’ll find many existing organizations with similar objectives. In my city (not county), I put the phrase “achievement gap” into the Guidestar search box. This term brought up over a dozen organizations working on this mission (by the way, this is an outdated term; more appropriately, it is the opportunity gap). In my state, we have big issues tackling systemic racism in our educational institutions, consistently falling near the end of the list. When I added education as a mission into Guidestar, over 1500 organizations popped up. With all of these organizations, millions of state and donor dollars, and thousands of people trying to create a quality education system for our students, we still fail. We don’t need another nonprofit. Assessing your concept’s uniqueness before investing time and diverting resources is crucial. 2. Financial Realities Starting a nonprofit won’t fill your pockets, at least not immediately. In fact, it might never turn a profit. Before incorporating, investigate potential funding sources. Donors and grantors are often reluctant to support startup organizations, so securing financial backing for your cause should be a top priority before you incorporate. 3. Scarce Resources The nonprofit sector is already burdened with a shortage of competent board members and generous donors. Creating a new organization often diverts these valuable resources from existing missions, potentially harming the community rather than helping it. Engage with current board presidents and executive directors to understand the challenges of adequate (and sustainable) human and monetary resources. 4. Time Investment Impact takes time. Consider your theory of change – how long will it realistically take for your nonprofit to make a meaningful difference? New startups often require years or even decades to establish credibility and deliver substantial outcomes and impact. 5. High Failure Rate Running a nonprofit is demanding and may not always be rewarding. It takes a lot of resilience. Do you possess the diverse skill set required to manage human resources, finance, marketing, volunteer coordination, and program quality effectively? The failure rate for new nonprofits is notably high, emphasizing the difficulty of leading new organizations. I don’t mean to crush your dreams. While these reasons may seem discouraging, there are ways you can contribute to your community while you gain experience, network, and learn about the nonprofit landscape. If you believe in your idea, test it out first. Nonprofits value and need innovation. They want dedicated volunteers. Demonstrate the viability of your concept within your community through a partnership with a current organization before seeking support from grantmakers and donors. Who knows, if your idea is that lucrative, you may be hired, and you won’t have to worry about the drudgery of administration. So, what does this have to do with mindfulness? So many of us are driven by our egos, thinking we can lead better than anyone else. For some of us, that is true. But for many of us, that is not the case- especially early in our careers. Learning how to lead is developmental. It is a hands-on experience. So, ask yourself, am I doing this alone because it is a unique idea, and I am the best person to move it forward? Many of us are guided by our egos, and engaging in mindfulness diminishes the frequently self-centered inner dialogue. Mindfulness cultivates a mindset conducive to collaboration and teamwork, fostering more effective partnerships. Starting a nonprofit is a significant undertaking that demands careful consideration. Rather than jumping into the deep end, explore avenues to fulfill your passion and positively impact your community. Join a board. Be a volunteer. Offer to start a social entrepreneurship for a well-run nonprofit that wants to expand. After all, proving the worth of your idea on a smaller scale may be the key to unlocking the support you need to make a lasting difference. Follow me on social media @drtheresarickekiely on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. #mindfulleadership #nonprofitleadership Watch for my upcoming book on mindful nonprofit leadership coming soon!