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Please discourage starting non-profits, etc.

cypresspatcypresspat 627 replies11 threads Member
I have a meeting next week with a major foundation. This is a routine part of my job. I help them with assessing the sustainability and general health of organizations they are considering a heavy investment in.
Every year, we have the SAME conversation. There are TOO many non-profits. Sure, lots of people have a novel idea and/or are dynamite leaders who really start something great and impactful. But, mostly not. And they often become a drain on the already thin philanthropic resources.

So, I absolute cringe every time I read in a ‘chance me’ thread about some non-profit, or club, or whatever kids start to do something that surely is already being done. This is a BAD habit.

I know their hearts are in the right place, but you know what is more impressive? Joining an already existing organization and really contributing .

Starting any of these things is. It not hard, or impressive. Knitting into an existing org and making a difference is.
I would love to see colleges be explicit about that in their admissions advice to students. And also in their marketing to students about what goes on in their own campuses. One of the gazillion marketing pieces we got from colleges (this week) bragged about 500+ student clubs. For 2,500 students. How ridiculously.
Sure, future leaders are great. But someone has to be the ones who can have an impact even if they didn’t create the structure which meets their wants exactly.

Doubt any one with any power to influence this is reading. But at least I feel better.
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Replies to: Please discourage starting non-profits, etc.

  • MaineLonghornMaineLonghorn 42245 replies2278 threads Super Moderator
    Good point! I never thought of that. I'm on the Board of Directors of NAMI Maine, and we struggle to make ends meet. We run a deficit every year. Our funding has not decreased over the years, but it hasn't increased, either, and our bills keep going up. One thing I didn't realize before was that a lot of grants are earmarked for specific programs, such as suicide prevention. It's not sexy to provide money to pay for electricity, oil, and other overhead costs. It's a huge problem. :(
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  • cypresspatcypresspat 627 replies11 threads Member
    Yes, the old ‘no one will pay for operating expenses’ problem. Philanthropic funders love the new, ‘innovative’ programs, too. They get bored with the old, long-standing programs, even if they work! That’s my job - to shine a light on those things which work. Let the service providers do what they know how to do and stop making them jump through hoops and keep coming up with ‘new’ programs!
    PS - I am very familiar with NAMI! Important and difficult work. Thank you for your serving on the board.
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  • eastcoast101eastcoast101 484 replies8 threads Member
    Agree 100%. I also work for a nonprofit. If there is another nonprofit that does the work you're interested in, or can handle the project you're interested in, work through them. Do a special project or fundraiser under their umbrella. Don't reinvent the wheel, which will take away from the established organization's work. It's challenging enough raising money; don't make it harder by slicing and dicing the fundraising dollars into smaller an smaller slivers, so that in the end no one has the funds to make a real impact.
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  • MaineLonghornMaineLonghorn 42245 replies2278 threads Super Moderator
    A plug for volunteering for your state chapter of NAMI! The organization is always looking for young people to help out. Kids struggling with mental illness relate well to young people - they don't want old fogies lecturing them. Our state chapter is actively pursuing young people to be on our Board of Directors. I would think that position would look fantastic on a college resume and you would really be accomplishing something.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 10384 replies122 threads Senior Member
    Totally agree! I worked in the non for profit sector in my early career and then for years as a volunteer. Kids can have a much bigger impact volunteering and contributing to established organizations.
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  • TheBigChefTheBigChef 710 replies6 threads Member
    "Kids can have a much bigger impact volunteering and contributing to established organizations."
    I don't doubt that this is true. However I suspect that in many cases, the main motivation for a HS kid starting a non profit is that they assume it will look better on their college applications than the usual volunteer work. Whether they are correct in that assumption is another matter. In any event, all part of the EC arms race.
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  • coolguy40coolguy40 2935 replies8 threads Senior Member
    To add a different point of view...is there something wrong with doing something that makes a profit? Any 18 year old kid can get donations, put it in a bank account, and call it breast cancer awareness. In reality, it's just a way to pad their credentials...barf! Doing something for a profit and being successful at it shows both creativity and tenacity, and it shows that they can manage money. THAT would get someone's attention.
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  • calmomcalmom 20895 replies168 threads Senior Member
    I'd agree with the point about high-schoolers starting resume-padding nonprofits, but for another reason: it's one of those things rich kids with parental connections can do, but poor kids can't, because of the paperwork & fees needed to set up a nonprofit in the first place & to keep up with required filings down the line. Not that a poor, unconnected kid can't raise money -- it's just a lot easier to set up a GoFundMe page.

    But as to the other point: many fundraising efforts are geared to local or niche causes that wouldn't get the time of day from the larger, well-established organizations. So while there really is no point for a student to create their "own" nonprofit to raise funds in competition with another, established organization -- there are many times when the need simply won't be met but for someone local or with a personal interest stepping up to the plate. But ideally, anyone who sets up a nonprofit should be doing so with the idea of creating an ongoing organization -- not something that will cease to exist when its founder graduates from high school. (Part of the idea of a nonprofit is that it is a corporation with a board of directors, precisely to allow that continuity). If you look around you will see all sorts of nonprofits in your community that fit that definition -- perhaps the PTO's at the local elementary schools, local youth sports leagues, local service clubs, a community theater, etc.
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  • milee30milee30 2917 replies19 threads Senior Member
    edited August 2019
    Six of one... half dozen of the other. There are too many nonprofits chasing a small pool of $$$. But assuming the existing nonprofits are well run and accomplish the goals they're established to addressed is a bit naive. Will a nonprofit established by a high school student serve the needs better than the existing nonprofits? It's a toss up, as is assuming the existing nonprofits are well run or should continue.

    And really, none of this should be a factor or consideration for college entrance.
    edited August 2019
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  • surfcitysurfcity 2772 replies61 threads Senior Member
    I agree with the OP 100%!!

    Work through an existing organization. It can be relatively expensive to start a brand new 501c3. If you must do something new work under the umbrella of an existing organization. See if your school district has an education foundation you can partner with.
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  • evergreen5evergreen5 2059 replies38 threads Senior Member
    It seems odd to me that students feel it's important for college apps to found and run an organization (regardless of whether nonprofit or for profit) having never worked for one before. If I were an admission officer, I'd think it sounded naive.
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  • chaphillmomchaphillmom 121 replies12 threads Junior Member
    edited August 2019
    Agree with OP, but I think we are seeing this because of the overall arms race (as @TheBigChef put it) of ECs. Have you published? Started a company? Any patents? Knighted by the Queen? (OK, the last one was silly). But the concept of having a major spike so that you can get into the top schools drives a lot of this.
    One question- not sure if anyone knows the answer- but what percentage of these high school initiated non-profits continue once they graduate and go to college?
    edited August 2019
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 30443 replies59 threads Senior Member
    Highly selective colleges are always looking for some hook in applicants’ resume. The fact of the matter, is few teens, or people, in general do. So these kids and their parents are desperately looking for something that makes them look special.
    It’s not just starting a non profit. In the last several years, there has been a rise in kids writing papers,articles, internships, doing research , inventions, starting businesses, all in hopes that these activities promote their applications over the crowd. The AOs then have to sift through the spin and figure what is truly a work of passion, of incredible effort or....an EC to gain entry in a selective college.

    It’s sad to see that some of these things are for sale. One pays to get mentors for research. It’s actually become a business. One pays to get that 3rd world experience. (I can think of worse ways to spend the time and money on that one).
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  • austinmshauriaustinmshauri 9981 replies386 threads Senior Member
    I agree, @Jonri. I don't think most kids who start charities make much money. I think student run groups are generally small and the reason people contribute is because they're local. That doesn't mean that if the kid's organization didn't exist their money would go to a larger organization. There's no guarantee it would go anywhere at all.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35407 replies399 threads Senior Member
    The colleges don't encourage it. Kids get mixed up on what "leadership" really is. Sheesh, getting experience with an adult run org tops reinventing the wheel, in so many ways. And locally, not some of the oddness kids come up with. Plus, so many found something then never lift a finger to directly help the needy.

    Same with those fundraisers. More raised isn't more impressive.

    Why not for profit? Cuz it's not what adcoms are looking for. Those Wharton wannabes drive me nuts, lol, with their number of blog followers or how they founded a business.
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  • cypresspatcypresspat 627 replies11 threads Member
    @lookingforward Not sure I agree that colleges don’t encourage this false resume-building. I do give them credit for sometimes seeing right through kids who are clearly spit-balling their way through high school. Although I believe they can be much more explicit in stating that they want kids who are excelling at being HS students, not adults. Starting businesses, and non-profits, and volunteering for 20 hours a week are ADULT aspirations, and not at all typical teenager aspirations.

    But everyone in each HS knows exactly who the insincere kids are. Every student knows. Teacher. GC. Coach. Maintenance personnel. Everyone. Yet....those same kids still manage to make it to one elite school every year.
    So, through a continuous failure to detect what to many seems very obvious, they are encouraging it.

    How can colleges better detect these self-serving youth? Well that would take some work, wouldn’t it? But within five minutes of simple questioning a reasonable adult can tell the difference between a kid who is doing things for the right reasons vs. not. So, if a college is zeroing in on kids based on their perceived high levels of service.... I think some extra digging is called for. I think it would be worth their time. Absolutely there are sincere teens out there who feel compelled to help others with every spare moment they have. But they are the strong minority. And those kids who are doing all of those things who are NOT sincere.....they do far more harm than good. And they are doing this because they believe that colleges value it. That is harmful to our community because it usually isn’t paired with a respect for those who are being helped.

    I would argue that doing a better job at discouraging insincere volunteerism is in the college’s own self interest. Given how hard marketing staffs work (and how much money they spend) protecting their brand, and their being fully cognizant of how local students’ selection of colleges impacts other students’ selections, colleges would benefit from doing a better job of incentivizing proper and sincere philanthropic efforts by teenagers.

    Our HS’s has a perfect example of this in 2019. Two kids. Both star athletes. #1 is headed to a NESCAC school to play a helmet sport (full pay). Not the greatest student, but is one busy kid with all of his church-affiliated mission trips, elderly-neighbor house clean up days, meals-on-wheels.....all that.

    Kid #2 was also a recruited athlete for a different non-helmet sport, and I described his sled hockey exploits in my earlier post. He elected to not pursue his sport as he is an exceptional student but had zero interest in the schools which pursued him.
    He is attending a large private university many states away on a full merit scholarship because one of the parents of a teammate noticed how special this kid is and this parent happens to be the ex-head-of-admissions at this large private uni;. Not a coincidence. .

    The real moral of the story is that kid #1 is not a nice person. Despite his resume, he refers to folks he ostensibly is helping as ‘those people.’ He failed to show up for his meal-on-wheels duties (which means an elderly neighbor goes without lunch), and got ‘fired’ from the program. During his volunteer shifts for reading to five year olds at the library, he told them to play while he read his phone (librarians kicked him out, too). Does this kid fool anyone who knows him? No. Did he fool the very elite NEACAC school? Well, I hope so because I would hate to think they would want a kid like that on campus. The impact of this is that ZERO other kids from our HS applied to that school this year (generally 5 to 10 do each year). The college that kid #2 is headed to? Opposite thing happened this year. They are both high profile kids, being athletes, so everyone knew about their college aspirations. Plus kid #1 told everyone who would listen.

    Will these app numbers change in a few years? Probably....as the memory of those two kids fade. But, maybe not. Considering the 50,000,000,000 emails my S20 is getting right now to apply to various colleges, despite his expressing no interest in almost all of them, colleges appear to highly value applications. So this NESCAC school will lose, I would guess, 50 apps over the next few years. Just guessing. Or worse, only get apps from next year’s no-so-nice students? Think a phone call or two to those who run these programs wouldn’t be worth their time? I think so. Could colleges possibly do this for every applicant? Of course not. I tutored this kid in math, so I know his grades. He is substantially below this NESCAC’s school’s stats. He clearly got a boost, besides his ahtletic abilities, by claiming to be ‘ ‘Father Theresa.’

    My kid is no angel. He does the bare minimum in terms of volunteering, but when he does help out, it is sincere. He walked out of an admissions presentation for a college we flew to visit because the video clearly suggested that the school was likely filled with the kid #1 types. Maybe that college does an excellent job of sifting the wheat from the chafe. I really don’t know. Maybe that marketing message is the most effective one for attracting all of the super-volunteering kids who are indeed sincere. I really don’t know. That college’s stats certainly suggest they are doing just fine without my advice. But they lost my kid within 20 minutes. I am sure they will survive.

    Strong students absolutely get the message that there are five other equally strong students vying for the same spot they want. Their SAT’s and GPA’s can only get so high. Once they get to high school, if they hadn’t already played a sport or have developed art or music skills, it is too late to start and excel. So...what can they do? Colleges need to do a better job of telling such students what they should and should not do, both explicitly and by at least trying to sift out the kid #1’s.
    Maybe my example was a rare failure. I sure hope so.

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