One Man Non Profits Part II – The Down Side

On of the questions I get asked all the time is ‘How do I start my own
Non Profit’. I often shudder and then ask what they want to benefit,
what their passion is and if their is an organization that fills that
need already. The balance that we are striving for is personal
connection vs. economy of scale. I’ll discuss a few ways to bridge this
gap in section III of this series of posts.

FUND RAISING IS NOT A ZERO SUM GAME! Each time a new organization
arises to benefit a cause where another organization already exists we
loose a bit in the economy of scale.  We are not taking dollars away
from each other, we are just spending them unnecessarily and
repetitively on things that do not help our end goal. Each new
organization needs a host of things to stand alone and differentiate
itself from the other organizations serving the same community.

Maybe there are so many more one man philanthropies out there to day
because setting one up is so much easier. We technology lets us have a
virtual office on our cell phone if we want. Or maybe There are more
causes that are important to more people. The bottom line is how is the
money we raise actually helping move our mission?

In social service and community engagement organizations it can be as
straight forward as providing food for the hungry, or shelter, or
clothing or even job training. In the medical field things are not that
simple.Organizations like the American Cancer Society spend substantial
portions of their budget on epidemiological and scientific research.
Some of the research demands significant funding to be done correctly.
Small local charities may not be able to raise the money needed to fund
a 30 year longitudinal study, or full scientific research project.

There has to be a better way to give people that personal
I-make-a-difference feeling that all philanthropist AND concentrate the
positive results of their hard work into real tangible mission moving


  1. Unfortunately a lot of people, the “younger generation” especially, do not perceive large scale organizations as efficient and effective. They see them and experience them as bureaucratic and wasteful. Platforms like have sprung up to provide a platform for individuals with a common passion for an issue to coordinate and achieve more impact. I can’t testify that it’s working.

    Maybe the big organizations should be participating in things like to collaborate with the individuals. Meet them half-way. Otherwise they’re going to have to allow a lot more autonomy and freedom of action than is the norm. The freelancers have a whole different mindset.

  2. Right on David. Pretty much my thoughts as well, as posted in part 3 of the series. Flexibility and accommodation will save us all as we learn to work cooperatively. The legal and brand issues will be the last stronghold but even those will have to be reconciled if we are going to stay competitive in the new landscape.

  3. Many of the largest marketers have their hands in small/boutique brands that enjoy high levels of sales and brand awareness/loyalty but are sold by the big marketers – think SoBe (Pepsi) or Vitamin Water (Coke). They maintain their own autonomy but use the infrastructure and sheltering umbrella of the parent organization so lower costs while at the same time engaging in a customer base that eschews buying the big brand.

    I think of a lot of organizations that are small but powerful mainly due to the low barriers to entry and the fact that they can engage a demographic that will listen to their message – however narrowly focused. And yes lots of them want to help people in farflung countries with issues that people down the street face every day. Somehow it is not sexy enough or fulfilling enough to help your neighbor but donating that $25 to help someone in Namibia peels open that wallet like magic. Perhaps some large names in non-profits need to engage their users with boutique causes and even non-profit subsidiaries to help people suffering in other lands and generate a relationship with people in hopes of transitioning them some day to donate to the parent. One day today’s drinkers of Vitamin Water will tomorrow be buying Diet Coke as they grow up.

Leave a Reply