Hoping to go nonprofit: grow it organically

Published in UT San Diego, July 24, 2012

By Barbara Bry and Neil Senturia

Not every startup is designed to make a gazillion dollars. Some are designed to impact a gazillion people and are structured financially from day one as a nonprofit. Of course, some for-profit startups pivot to become nonprofits, but not usually by design.

On a balmy summer evening when they could have been downtown partying in the Gaslamp Quarter or barbecuing at the beach, 30 young professionals sat in a crowded room listening to five of their peers talk about why and how they followed their passion to start, lead or serve a nonprofit organization.

“When I was a student at San Diego State, I heard how many organizations in underdeveloped countries cause more problems than they solve. I wanted to start an organization to promote best practices in serving people who live in poverty,” said Cory Glazier, who started SCHAP in 2008 with Jessica Davies. SCHAP stands for Sustainable Comprehensive Humanitarian Assistance and Planning.

Davies also was on the panel at the event sponsored by the San Diego Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, as were:

• Jessica Johnson, founder and executive director, Jeans 4 Justice, which is focused on ending sexual violence.

• Brad Hurvitz, founder, Trek to Teach, which sends teachers and supplies to remote areas in Nepal.

• Serena Ngo, executive director, Super Food Drive, which works to make healthy food accessible to all people, especially those in need.

The desire to start a nonprofit often starts with a personal experience. In 2005, Johnson, who was then volunteering for the San Diego Center for Community Solutions, heard about an Italian rape case in which the woman was vindicated because “tight jeans can only be removed with a woman’s consent.”

Thus was born Jeans 4 Justice. With the “jeans” theme, Johnson organized events that paired charity with fashion and art, and 900 people attended the first one.

Much of the panel’s advice was relevant to any startup, such as the importance of doing market research, understanding competitive positioning, building a team with diverse skills and being willing to work for little or no money.

“First, go and do that thing. If you want to help kids improve their math skills, sit down with one kid,” said Glazier, the co-founder of SCHAP.

“Then bring a friend. Grow it organically.

“Do the thing that you feel your heart is called to do, and then you can take the impact to the next level by starting a nonprofit.”

Johnson said: “Be connected to your mission and really do your due diligence to make sure that no one else is doing it. It takes a lot of time and self-education to understand how to do the business development and administrative part like managing volunteers and staff, so you may be better off working for an existing organization.”

To become a nonprofit — called a 501(c)3 in the tax code — that can accept tax-deductible contributions, an organization must gain approval from the Internal Revenue Service. The process can take six months or more.

And with any startup, there is the famous pivot. Last year, SCHAP decided to become a for-profit called SCHAP University.

The “voluntourism” industry is growing, and so the new enterprise is focused on the development of an online education program for volunteers who want to learn how to work effectively in underdeveloped countries.

Rule No. 123

First follow your heart, but in the also famous words of Watergate’s Deep Throat, “Follow the money.” Whether for profit or non, you can’t make a difference without it.

Neil Senturia and Barbara Bry, serial entrepreneurs who invest in early-stage technology companies, take turns in writing this weekly column about entrepreneurship in San Diego. Please email ideas to Barbara at bbry@blackbirdv.com

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