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Building an Effective, Manageable, and (most importantly) Ethical Nonprofit Organization

I originally posted this on but I thought any of you curious about

how and why I built The Deaf Dream in this way would appreciate the read.

This morning a friend asked me for advice on starting a nonprofit.

This question has come multiple times each year and I have finally decided it is time to stop writing individual emails and create a single post with what I've learned.

That said, I will not pretend to be an expert on nonprofit any way.

I had the wonderful blessing to launch The Deaf Dream nonprofit (having no idea what I was doing and receiving a lot of divine help along the way). But in the last decade, I have also been able to work with over 30 nonprofits in various capacities; each with their unique goals, niches, locations, and needs.

My hope is that my recommendations below will simply help your idea blossom into an effective, manageable and (most importantly) ethical nonprofit organization.

1. Build a Simple Organization

If you want to create an effective and manageable nonprofit, I recommend you keep it simple:

A. Start, start TINY.

Ask yourself: "What is the ONE thing we can do right now that will have the biggest impact?"

When I started The Deaf Dream, our motto was Educate. Employ. Empower. (I.E. Fix alllllll the problems facing the international Deaf community.)

Eventually I burnt out and we had made very little progress. I identified the ONE thing we could do (and do well) that would have the biggest impact: Sponsor 1-2 Deaf college students per developing nation.

Recommended Reading: Essentialism (and Simple Church was actually really helpful too!)

B. Don't bring on partners or a big team or a large board unless you ABSOLUTELY need to.

More people = slower organization = most of your time goes into babysitting your team rather than on what really matters.

I say this gently, but I have learned that there are a lot of people who want to help...and very few who have the time or drive to make positive change themselves.

Recommended Reading: REWORK

C. Keep your overhead costs low.

There are a myriad of free resources, platforms, and programs available online. Do some research before slapping down money for a service. Keep your fixed costs low.

If possible, my recommendation is to stick to just a website if at all possible.

It is your solemn responsibility to make sure your donors' money goes directly to the recipients. Plus, it's unethical, in my book, to use 30-90% of your donations on paying salaries and increasing fundraising like many large organizations. (See the #3 section below.)

D. Decide early on how much time you'll invest per week.

I started out investing 40+ hours into The Deaf Dream, doing a million different things and getting nowhere.

When I simplified the organization, I realized I really didn't need more than 1 hour of FULLY focused and committed time each week. Now I've even got it down to about 15 minutes per week with 2-3 hours every few months when the semesters are starting and ending for our students.

Sure, I could do a lot more, there is always more we can do, but by doing this, I ensure that I'll never burn out, live happier, and keep focused on what matters most.

Recommended Reading: Again, Essentialism

2. Thoughtfully create a 30 second pitch.

Six years ago, I pitched my idea for The Deaf Dream to a BYU professor who said, "You can always tell a founder because they cannot give a pitch without sharing EVERYTHING." Best advice ever!

Even the nicest person in the world doesn't want to hear everything about an organization right off the bat.

I recommend your basic pitch contain

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