As with any other challenge, a positive mental outlook is essential when looking to start a successful nonprofit. This optimistic mindset will help you survive the hard times and appreciate the good ones.
As an entrepreneur myself, I learned that powerful lesson after receiving a phone call from my younger brother almost 10 years ago. My brother was calling to tell me that my mother had been killed in a hit-and-run by a drunk driver, and my world was suddenly turned upside down.
After several tough years, I was finally able to regain my optimistic outlook when my daughter Heleena was born. That’s when I stopped looking at life as if it was just something to get through and instead, chose to embrace the many lessons my mother taught me. Determined to leave behind a healthier world and a legacy I was proud of for my daughter, I made it my mission to take action against my dissatisfaction with wastefulness in the corporate world.
I resolved to fix a problem, rather than contributing to one and wanted to challenge our definition of success by putting impact ahead of profits. That’s when I decided to start a nonprofit called Forest Founders — a business dedicated to protecting our planet and battling our society’s waste problem.
Once I started building Forest Founders, I felt a sense of pride again. I was excited to wake up in the morning and knew I was on the right path. Suddenly, the world had been transformed into a beautiful place that I was eager to share with my daughter.
Having witnessed the power of guilt and helplessness firsthand, I decided to harness that force for the benefit of the planet. As a straightforward, subscription-based platform, Forest Founders gamifies environmentalism by empowering individuals to plant trees and earn rewards. By providing users with the tools they need to become carbon accountable, my nonprofit is on a mission to heal the planet for Heleena and for future generations.
It hasn’t always been easy. After going through the process of building a nonprofit from the ground up, I have five pieces of advice I’d like to share with entrepreneurs seeking to start their own nonprofit:
Start with a passion
For me, it was my passion for nature that led me to create Forest Founders. I wanted to combat the growing sense of climate despair by empowering people to track their impact and see their personal power to negate their carbon footprint firsthand.
To determine your own passion, start by asking yourself this question: What issue do you feel so deeply about that you’re ready to take on a huge risk and make a long-term commitment to solving?
Creating a nonprofit from scratch requires a major personal sacrifice, significant financial investment, and commitment to putting in long hours for months or years. You will be in the best position to overcome initial obstacles and see your journey through if you are working towards a cause that makes you leap out of bed in the morning. If it’s a cause you truly care about, you may feel as if there are never enough hours in the day and even start to see weekends as a minor annoyance.
Throughout the process of starting a nonprofit, you may be met with skepticism and resistance.
When I first announced my idea, people were wondering why I was starting a business to not make any money. Colleagues and mentors would try to offer me funding, expecting to be able to make an investment that would generate a return. People had trouble wrapping their minds around the concept of measuring the success of a business by the impact of its work rather than money in the bank.
As a nonprofit founder, the most valuable advice I can give aspiring entrepreneurs is to have faith in your convictions. Don’t let critics make you second-guess yourself. Starting a nonprofit takes grit and the strength to persist in the face of naysayers and skeptics.
Find your demographic
Of course, for all the critics I met along my journey to starting Forest Founders, I also encountered plenty of people who were inspired by the cause. When seeking startup costs and support, identifying a target demographic made up of people who care about your nonprofit’s cause is critical.
After all, there are more than seven billion people on our planet and attempting to connect with all of them would be impossible. On the other hand, prioritizing people who stand behind the foundational goals of your nonprofit will help you make meaningful connections and make the most of your marketing and fundraising efforts.
If you are unsure of your nonprofit’s demographic, I suggest beginning by determining your goals. Who shares similar goals and whose support will you need to fulfill them?
Don’t sell, inspire
After working on Wall Street, I became accustomed to selling to people in order to make a commission. When starting a nonprofit, I had to learn how to inspire, rather than sell, to make an impact.
To inspire audiences, you need to connect with them in a genuine way. For me, this circles back to my first point: coming from a place of genuine passion. Audiences can sense when you aren’t passionate about the message you are trying to convey. Passion breeds inspiration — if you are doing something you truly care about, your passion will be contagious.
Don’t be afraid of taking risks
Pride, passion and fortitude; these are the tools of an aspiring nonprofit entrepreneur. Without them, we fail. Risk-taking is essential. We need to inspire each other and become the agents of the change we want to see.
Starting a business is scary. The vast majority of businesses fail — but failure is essential. After all, we don’t learn from reinforcing what we already know. It is through failures and our attitude towards them that we become stronger entrepreneurs. To be successful, we have to look at our nonprofit and business endeavours as the greatest fight of our lives. We need to answer when the bell is rung and stand up and fight with just as much passion after every time we get knocked down.
Growing a successful nonprofit may take years of effort and a great deal of dedication, but the journey is fulfilling. I’ve found that striving towards the end goal of making a positive change in the world can generate intangible rewards that are more valuable than any amount of financial gain. As long as you continue to learn your lessons along the way, you are an unbeatable force that will become stronger with every obstacle. You have to choose success, it won’t choose you.
By Ford Seeman, edited by Thomas Oppong