Starting a Nonprofit Organization

I have a lot of experience in nonprofits. In my 36 years of life, I’ve volunteered over 10,000 hours and been employed over 13,000 in church and para-church organizations. Ten years ago I graduated from the University of Washington with a minor degree and a certificate in Nonprofit Administration (which I actually thought I wouldn’t use until I retired from Costco, but that’s another story). Hands down, the most common question I get from people who hear about what I do is, “What does it take to start a nonprofit?”

An email from a friend-of-a-friend recently arrived in my box with this very question. This man asked me the question because he is burdened with doing something that has a greater purpose than just making money. I am a little leery about anyone who wants to do something because it is the opposite of what they’re currently doing, but I took the time to answer his question, and I let him know that I would have a more complete answer in my blog. Here it is.

The U.S. doesn’t need another nonprofit (writes the guy who’s started three, and is currently working for a start-up). There are currently 1.6 million 501 (c) (3) organizations in the U.S. This does not account for all of the unregistered community organizations and churches. We have nearly every niche filled, in most cases, multiple times.

Everyone wants to live in their passions and values. I believe the best way to do this is to find an existing organization that matches the purpose you seek to serve, even if you merely volunteer to do so. Clothing banks, homeless ministry and all kinds of community service can typically be facilitated through a church or community organization. If you exhaust all possible opportunities to piggy back or serve within a current nonprofit, then consider my advice below.

If you’re new to nonprofits, you can take a crash-course in the 3rd Sector by watching this short video.

Starting a nonprofit requires more paperwork, collaboration and back-end office work than most people would think. It is idyllic to think that you can spend 90%, 80% or even 50% of your time doing the program you seek to serve. Running the operations is an incredible task, especially during the start-up process. Here is a checklist of things to do to start a nonprofit in the U.S.

You should budget at least $3000 to pay for your filing fees and legal fees. The IRS form 1023 alone costs $850 for most nonprofits. You will also need Directors’ and Officers’ insurance (D & O insurance) to protect the board and officers from personal liability. This can run anywhere from $1000 to several thousand dollars, depending on the amount of liability coverage you desire.

Nonprofits are businesses that are set up to receive donations and avoid paying certain taxes. It takes a business plan, including financial plan and/or proforma. Most nonprofits depend heavily on philanthropy. The difficulty in funding a nonprofit, especially a new nonprofit, is always underestimated. This is something I drive home with anyone who asks the question about starting a nonprofit. I have had several occasions to explain to people that their pyramid model fundraiser of “1000 people who give one hundred dollars” doesn’t work. People give to people. More accurately, people give to friends, then to experts, then to organizations. Peer-to-peer fundraising is the best form of engaging someone’s passions. The ability to develop a case statement and use your case to raise capital is both an incredible privilege and a daunting task.

I heard once that the higher a case is identified within the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the more difficult it is to fund. This seems very logical to me.

A side note, I actually met a nonprofit executive who told me that she was frequently over-funded. They had to find creative ways to use the money they were given, and they rarely solicited funds from the community they served. If you’re curious, send me an email at shawn@rooftop519.com and will share what type of organization this is.

There are a lot of great resources for people who are starting nonprofits, and I never want to be the Eeyore that stops someone from accomplishing their calling or purpose. The world is a much better place because of the nonprofits that allow people an avenue for service. If you must start a new organization, do your homework. Cover your relationships in prayer. Intently seek the Lord’s purpose to be lived through your ministry. Get sound counsel and know that it will take a much greater effort than most people could ever imagine.

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David Sokol and Worldview.

David Sokol is the heir apparent to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. I recently read several articles about this astonishing executive. He’s smart, wealthy, driven and intentional; not the type of person that wastes energy or time.

The most interesting thing to me was how Sokol touts his organizational values. Several years ago he laid out his principles in Pleased but Not Satisfied, a short self-published book about his management beliefs. Sokol’s six laws are: operational excellence, integrity, customer commitment, employee commitment, financial strength and environmental commitment.

These are wonderful values, but in and of themselves they are powerless. What gives them power is the imposing personality of a leader who tirelessly drives them home. I don’t know how effective David Sokol is in helping to create workplace environments that aren’t dependent upon his powerful confidence and charisma. What I believe with all my heart is that without people who believe in the “why” you do what you do, the “how” and the “what” do not bring significance to the work.

The best description I have seen of this concept is found at TEDx. Worldview is critical to aligning values for people who are connected to an organization; whether it is a family, business or church. The Biblical Worldview Institute uses this same premise to develop an understanding of how worldview (why) drives values (how) that determines behavior (what). Go back and click the TEDx link above. You’ll be glad you did.

Stephen Covey writes about the why in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, see habit #3, “Begin with the end in mind”. He also addresses the “why” in The principles of Leadership. They’re both great reads and I highly recommend them. Covey drives home the fact that if we’re not intentionally principle-centric, then something else in our center (core purpose, or “why”).

If I met David Sokol, I would love to find out why he is driven to do what he does. Seeking money is not innately meaningful. It is a behavior (what) sculpted by values (how). One of his principles for business gives us particular insight into his how, but gives no indication of why. “Environmental Commitment” can be motivated out of a biblical stewardship theology, a monetary incentive, a personal affinity for creation or nature, or peer pressure. There are more potential “whys”, but of the four I listed, only one that does not change over time (biblical stewardship may manifest itself differently within a culture, but it does not change based on what people think).

What happens when principles are in conflict with each other? C.S. Lewis wrote, “Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people.’ People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of the rest.” In Sokol’s case, his ethical instinct became in conflict with his financial strength instinct, when the Waxman-Markey Bill was making it’s way through Congress in 2009. Sokol helped to lead the effort to lobby in the senate to kill the bill in the Senate.

The instincts and principles of the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy and more were firmly opposed to Sokol’s environmental ethic. Their principle of conservation and protection of the environment is rarely subverted by a financial principle. On the whole, people I’ve met from those organizations are living primarily for the purpose of the environment (what). That may sound like a worldview, but the actual “why” of their existence is peer pressure that leads to situational ethics. There is a strong emphasis on collaboration, shared learning and synergistic relationships. Those are all noble efforts (how), but the core purpose of their organizations is, on the whole, poorly defined and feeble-founded. An exception within the environmental movement is The Evangelical Environmental Network,  claims to operate from the “why” of “tending to the garden” (a reference to the Genesis story of God entrusting Adam and his descendants to steward creation).

Why does David Sokol run businesses for Berkshire Hathaway? I’d like to know. Why did he (seemingly) oppose his environmental values by fighting the Waxman-Markey Bill? Because the “how” of his life was in conflict. I don’t know if his instincts were even at war with each other. Maybe it was such a simple financial decision that he never explored the environmental commitment that he claims to live.

What about sick kids in our own country?

The question often arises, “Why does Rooftop 519 chose to help children only outside of the U.S.?” There are several layers to the answer, but before I dig into the solution, let me start with our Core Purpose. “To glorify God through healing people and transforming communities”.  As we have defined in our Messaging and Branding Guidelines, the Core Purpose is the “axis for why we exist.”

At that center of existence, we don’t care more about one life than the next. Nobody ever asks the question, “Why do you heal just children?” I don’t believe any person or organization has the moral high ground to choose one life over another based on subjective reactions to a feeling of ethics. Our mission focuses what we do and why we do it. Ours is “Healing the sickest kids in the world in the name of Christ.”

The mission becomes less subjective as we define our terms. One of the things we identified early on is that the vast majority of “sickest” kids exist outside of the U.S. Birth defect that are exhibited by teenagers in developing nations are, by in large, nonexistent among U.S. citizens (and even non-citizens residing in the U.S.). Any child born in any hospital in the U.S. who needs critical care is guaranteed, regardless of a family’s ability to pay, access to that care. While there are some exceptions for very complicated illnesses or injuries, children in the U.S. still have very good access overall to health care.

Some examples of this include Tuberculosis of the spine and Noma. Both diseases are rampant throughout Africa and parts of Asia. Estimates of children who are infected with these horrific and easily treatable illnesses run into the hundreds of thousands. Children in the U.S. may, on rare occasion, have a traumatic injury that would cause similar suffering – say from a boating or automobile accident, for example. The difference for a child in Michigan versus Nigeria is that when the Nigerian child’s body slowly disintegrates, either bones being warped and contorted or flesh being eaten by bacteria, there is no 911. I have heard stories of family members who will drown their own children because there is no hope for their disease. This is simply unthinkable among Northern Americans.

I live in one of the most pristine and affluent cities in all of the United States. La Quinta is a beautiful city, dubbed the “Gem of the Desert” in Southern California. Home to many retired executives and professionals, we are all privileged to walk down beautiful sidewalks, visit excellent libraries and have many wonderful amenities. Those amenities include access to emergency services. My son recently dislocated his kneecap. Save two minor wrist fractures, this was his first serious injury in his 13 years. Within seconds of his mishap, I realized what he had done and I asked a friend call 911. No more than 90 seconds passed until the professionals were on-site. Within several minutes he was at the hospital, comforted by some narcotics and met by doctors who eagerly relocated the wayward bone.

I try to imagine walking out of the coffee shop I visit in Old Town La Quinta and seeing a 13 year old child sitting on the curb, begging for food, but possibly unable to eat anything that was given to him because most of his lips and cheeks are gone. In his case, flesh-eating bacteria have consumed the muscles that contract to allow him to close his mandible. His body had fought off the infection, but not before it had stripped him of the ability to even hold water in his mouth.

Another thing about my city is that we probably have the greatest number of plastic surgeons per capita in the world. A block from where this hypothetical young teenager sits is an office where customers pour in and out to have their lips puckered and their brows hoisted. These surgeons have the ability to spend 90 minutes with a scalpel and some thread, maybe a little glue, and build him a face.

If that boy really came to La Quinta, I have no doubt that he would be healed. Rooftop 519 brings kids like this to the U.S. so we can all be a part of their pain, and more importantly, their healing. This is the core of what Christ would want us to do. What most of us have done, myself included, is that we have distracted ourselves from the pain of others because we don’t know that child. We cannot see him on our street. We do not experience his brokenness. He exists, and I am compelled because of the cause of Christ, to get him and show him to you. I am asking for you to help. Pray for him. Pay for a plane ticket or donate your vacation miles. Invite him into your home. Connect him with a doctor you know. Get your church to share the gospel with him and send him home to his family with a deep understanding of the compassion of Christ.

Why We Moved

In October of 2010, my wife and I partnered with a core team of people in the Coachella Valley in Southern California to begin Desert Foursquare Church. This is the first time in my life that I’ve lived further than 10 miles from the hospital where I was born. It’s the first time we have uprooted our children from their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and the school they’ve attended since they were three and five years old. It doesn’t take an expert to do what we’re doing; it takes a calling.

II Timothy verse 2: “To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord”. Grace, mercy and peace. You’ll need those in abundance, regardless of the path God chooses for you. Here’s how God is choosing me.

In the summer of 2009, I was working for Cascade Christian Schools as the Director of Development. A wonderful, secure, comfortable job with phenomenal people (that I miss terribly). That summer I had a $250,000 construction project that I was overseeing. The sports fields improvements were entirely donated, and I had a responsibility to our donors to ensure that things went according to plan. When my window for a vacation came up, my wife and I booked our trip and hoped on a plane two days later. It was a high of 116 degrees for each of the seven days we were in Palm Desert. It cooled down to 100 degrees at night.

At the end of our stay, I was really looking forward to coming home. We didn’t know anyone in the desert, and I can’t say that I have a natural affinity for the area. I like cool weather, rain and the rich green of the Northwest. Driving towards the airport, my wife began to cry. “It feels like we’re leaving home!” was all that she could say. I couldn’t understand that at all.

Over the course of the next several months, we began to pray about whether or not the Lord was calling us to something new. By October, we took our second trip down to the Coachella Valley. Several friends came with us, and we met up with some friends that had just moved down to Palm Desert. After several days of seeking the Lord, fasting and praying in the Spirit, we knew that we knew. We flew back on Saturday and I submitted my resignation on Monday (one of the toughest things I’ve ever done).

Because of my involvement in several sensitive areas of work, we chose not to announce my departure until January. Even my children weren’t aware of our decision until after Christmas. Of all the things I’ve ever achieved in work, leaving CCS under the best of circumstances, with the best possible hand-off to an incredibly anointed successor was my greatest career highlight.

There was never a single moment where I felt a call to “do” something in the desert. I had a lot of ideas… ways to make a living, things to accomplish, etc. The best way I can sum up our journey to La Quinta was that I was searching for who God wants me to “be”. This radical expression of our faith in God’s leading has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. We could not have scripted what this would look like when we started, but now that we’re here, I wouldn’t trade the adventure for anything. My purpose, meaning and identity are more complete in my weaknesses, which Christ is using for HIS purpose. That’s who Christ wants me to be. More dependent upon him and less on myself.

The story is just beginning, but the thing I am most grateful to God for are the relationships he’s orchestrated in ways we never could have anticipated. My closest friends are people I either didn’t know or barely knew just two years ago. Cheryl and I are much more dependent upon one another; more connected than ever. My children have a greatly increased appreciation for their family relationships, especially for their grandparents. Our lives are greatly enriched through our church relationships. We need lots of grace, mercy and peace, and we are increasing in our ability to be who God desires us to be.

I am burdened for the people of the Coachella Valley. Watching people come to our church and seeing them grow closer to God gives me an incredible sense of belonging. I wouldn’t trade my experiences with Rooftop 519 for anything. Thank you Jesus for your divine leading. May I continue to be your willing servant.

The Great Reversal

The Great Reversal was coined by historian Timothy L. Smith. This term identified the shift of many evangelicals away from social concern to individual concern. Put another way, the emphasis of Christianity for the majority of those in the United States and the United Kingdom during the early part of the 20th century shifted. One hundred years ago, Christians en mass abandoned their passions for social concern and works to individual concern and grace.

I believe in sola gratia and most followers of the faith overwhelmingly agree that justification comes through grace alone. However, the very example of Christ’s love, compassion and evangelism, is depicted by a Christ who bore man’s physical burdens as well as spiritual pain.

Many Christians I know dislike the welfare system; I would list toward counting myself among them. The problem is that my spiritual forefathers created the need for the system by abandoning their social concern in favor of pursuing individual spiritual concerns. The Great Reversal preceded, and I believe paved the way, for the modern Government-run/taxpayer funded system of socialist care we provide in the United States. Our current bother was birthed by the impotence of the churches of yesteryear.

C.S. Lewis noted that we don’t have a soul, we are a soul. We have a body. The problem with an over-emphasis on souls is that we forget that the quickest way to a soul is through the body. Prayer changes things in the spirit, but so does a much-needed bandage to the flesh change things in the spirit.

This is not a political, psychological or sociological problem. This is a theological issue. Does the church have, and more importantly, do Christians have a primary charge to provide relief to the poor?

Matthew 19:21

Luke 11:41

Acts 4:34

Our responsibility is not social justice debate. We are in a prolonged exegetical and theological affront to our stewardship theology, primarily as it relates to our personal comfort. Can we domesticate Jesus to the point that we no longer try to look like him, but mold him into our image? We don’t need social justice, we need Jesus justice. The kind that would bring a grown man to his knees, willing to give his shirt, his job and his life for the kingdom. The kind of reckless abandon to the faith that makes it really difficult for people in need to not believe in God.

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