Founder/CEO at Unspoken Smiles, leveraging capitalism and philanthropy to direct attention to people who have been left behind.
What if I told you that launching a nonprofit startup would cost you nothing? Zilch. Nada. Would you go for it? Whether it seems possible or not, there is a way. Take it from me, a guy who grew up in Haiti, where there is very little entrepreneurial spirit, and found a way to not only start and grow a successful venture, but also impact lives along the way.
When life hands you lemons, you’re supposed to make lemonade, right? Growing up in Haiti was my lemon. Finding the courage to build a successful venture was my lemonade. In fact, I learned about entrepreneurship when I moved to America at the age of 21 with just a suitcase and a dream.
I started my life all over again while competing with young, outstanding leaders. Even though they had a clear head start in their knowledge and aspiration, I was able to edge past many of them by being creative in my strategy and making good use of the resources I had.
You don’t have to have a boatload of money to achieve your dreams and have a successful nonprofit venture; you just have to find the right channels to float down.
How do you outdo competitors?
Instead of simply raising money like my competitors, I persuaded some of the world’s largest corporations to invest in developing my leadership skills and, in some cases, to provide seed funding. That provided me a full ecosystem of support to grow my venture. While the others had already exhausted the funds that they had raised within a year or so, I was able to leverage free and pro bono resources and services to create a much larger impact.
And you can do the same.
Find someone who will invest in you.
Your first step once you have your venture in your sights is to find someone who will invest in you. Find an investor or organization that is willing to put their resources into developing your skills and backing your dream or idea. Perhaps this seems like a far-fetched idea to you, but they are out there, and they want to empower people like you.
There are hundreds of programs out there that offer seed funding and additional resources for people just like you to get their start. The vetting process for these organizations can be a bit rigorous, but you can apply even if you are just starting out. Just a few to consider are the Resolution Project, Echoing Green, the Global Good Fund, CGIU and MIT Solve.
How do I stand out?
What I have found is that the key to success with this process is to give an outstanding presentation and show just how strong your leadership skills are. For someone like me who had no experience and a shy personality, it was no easy feat. If you and I have these things in common, being able to show clarity, passion and authenticity could be your breakthrough. Many of these organizations are not as interested in your specific idea or venture, but rather you as the leader. They want to know that if they invest their hard-earned money and resources in you, you can be trusted to take it to the finish line.
Leverage your resources.
OK, so you made it through the first hurdle, but how do you capitalize on the resources you have been given to ensure a successful venture? As a person with these types of programs, you become part of a large ecosystem that grants you unlimited access to key industry professionals, free resources and funding to help you reach your goal. It’s essentially an inner circle where everyone knows everyone. Because of this, they will provide a safety net for you to be able to come back from setbacks and challenges in the beginning.
Because I didn’t yet have a paid staff, I totally relied on these pro bono services for specific projects, which ranged from partnering with a law firm for free legal documents to having a website built to marketing strategies. Having a 501(c)(3) status doesn’t hurt either.
Money isn’t everything.
While it may seem the opposite way sometimes, money isn’t everything. In some cases, your passion, authenticity and leadership skills can take you further than money ever could. If you’re truly passionate about what you want to accomplish, you can have your dream and maybe even impact a few other people along the way — even if you’re broke. So, go. Find the resources that can help you make it happen. They’re out there.
Forbes Nonprofit Council is an invitation-only organization for chief executives in successful nonprofit organizations. Do I qualify?