Starting a non-profit organization is no small feat. Born out of inequity, it takes a strong resolve and an entrepreneurial mindset to take the leap from side project to the international stage.
Alongside this ambitious journey, you’re apt to tackle the consequential challenges like human resources, overhead, and scaling. At the risk of sounding glib, one of Stupid Cancer’s biggest milestones was hiring me, employee #2. This, among many other aspects of a small business growth, has presented some significant challenges over the past 6 years.
Small Business Challenges
Here is what Stupid Cancer did to solve the common challenges that come with starting a non-profit organization:
1. Chase Cost-Saving Measures
Starting a small business is an investment. Unless you’re sitting on the next big thing, chances are you don’t have a lot of capital at your disposal. For Stupid Cancer, a charity, this was even more difficult. Over the years, we've asked vendors for a discount or something for free. These people have a halo effect by supporting you and relishing in your success. Acknowledging their generosity with something as simple as a tweet can go a long way in advancing the relationship.
2. Decide Who's Best at What and Let Them Do It
In-house skill gaps are a natural component of a small team. There is an element of faking it until you make it, but you will be more successful if you defer. If someone on your team is more skilled than you at something, let them do it. If you’re spending way too much time on one part of your business, consider outsourcing it. One of our biggest catalysts for growth was bringing in a skilled development contractor. We raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in a few short months.
3. Clearly Define Your Value and Work to Enhance It
Like all charities, our purpose was identified by our founder, and emboldened by the lack of resources tackling the issue. Our programs and services were established and evolved year-over-year. If you have a pipe dream off in the distance, put it out there into the universe and it will likely come to fruition. At the very least, a friend or mentor will hold you accountable to work towards your goal.
4. Figure Out Who You Truly Are, Even If That Means Making a Huge Pivot
Stupid Cancer was formed as the I’m Too Young For This! Cancer Foundation. We used iy as a way of abbreviating the organization, and it was well known for several years in our niche charity space. We hit an interesting point of growth where the general public was referring to us as our tagline “Stupid Cancer” in growing numbers. At some point it became prevalent enough to give us pause for thought. The idea of changing our name was daunting, but it was the slingshot we needed to propel us to greatness. For those that know it, iy is a reminder of our corporate infancy, and a time of the unknown.
5. Hire for the Sake of Adding Value, Not Bodies
Staffing up is an ambition of any company. In the past, we've had the mindset that more people equals more output. Without clearly defined roles and deliverables, having more people in the mix can actually do the opposite. The best way to figure out if a part-time or full-time person is required to carry out a task, consider having a volunteer or intern take it on first. There will be less paperwork on the front end, as well as less to deal with if it doesn’t work out.
6. Success and Growth Don’t Exist Without Growing Pains
You may find yourself in a position where past results don't guarantee future outcomes. People, places, and things will inevitably change throughout your the lifespan of a company. At Stupid Cancer, many of these things can only be learned through experience, but you can forecast for major budget, staffing, or market changes. By acknowledging that anything can happen, you'll be ready for anything. If you conduct your business in an honest, transparent way, you won't have to worry about possible fallout.
7. Think Ahead, But Be Mindful of the Present
When going through strategic planning, it's easy to jump to the end goal. At Stupid Cancer’s annual board retreat, we identify these big picture items, but break them down into small, medium, and long-term milestones. It’s important not to compare yourself to other businesses when going through this process as each has its own unique challenges and opportunities.
At Stupid Cancer, we joke that, "If you work hard enough, for long enough, you will seem like an overnight success." While this is tongue-in-cheek, it's true that persistence is key, especially when starting a non-profit organization.
Starting a business is an amazing achievement and something that should be celebrated. Whether you’re starting a non-profit or a for-profit company, you will inevitably hit those common small business challenges. By taking a step back and breaking the big things into smaller, less daunting tasks, you will find success along the way.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.