Help, I Need Somebody
May 17, 2011 8:32 AM   Subscribe

I have passion for a non-profit idea, but I can't do this myself. Help me get started and ask for help in the best way possible.

A few months ago, I heard about DesigNYC, which is an organization that matches non-profits with designers. The designers contribute their work pro-bono, boosting the impact of the non-profit and therefore helping the community. I'm an interactive designer (with a business-minded, entrepreneurial spirit), and I thought this was an awesome idea. DesigNYC even posts a ton of resources and documentation online so others can benefit from the knowledge they have gained along the way. Sounds pretty great, right?

I currently live in Columbus, Ohio which is a surprisingly progressive city with a large creative industry. This type of thing seems like it would be successful here. The problem is that I am relatively new to the city and don't know very many people that would be a good fit for this. I looked into forming a non-profit, but I would have to name a board of at least 3 people, and I'd rather find qualified, passionate people than simply asking my friends and people I know. Also, it will cost a couple hundred bucks.

So far I have come up with 3 options other than using my existing, limited contacts:

1. Find a like-minded existing community organization and try to work it through them

My plan was to basically get in touch and see if this was a project they would be interested in being involved with. The thing I like about this approach is that I will hopefully meet some new people and benefit from the recognition of an existing organization. (For example, I found the Columbus Partnership, TechColumbus, or the Greater Columbus Arts Council. The problem is that I have yet to find a group that seems like the perfect fit.

2. Basically try to organize this online
So I could get on local websites such as cbusr and try to connect with people on there. At that point we could meet regularly IRL and hash things out until we came up with how we want to be structured and move forward.

3. Lay the groundwork myself and attempt to get publicity
Another option would be that I could register a domain myself and throw up some information about the mission. Then I could contact local media and see if I could get some coverage. (Not necessarily the news station, I'm talking like, Twitter, etc) This would probably be useful in getting people who want to be involved to contact me, but I don't want to blow any PR opportunities on start up stuff. I'd rather get started and then try to get media coverage once its underway, because that is the important part to promote. This is my least favorite option but at this point I'm not excluding anything.

Once incorporated as a non-profit, we would be able to pursue local grants and resources (for example, from the Columbus Foundation), but its hard to get started before getting that 501(c). Its a chicken and the egg conundrum.

Any MeFi ideas/suggestions would be greatly appreciated. BTW I realize something like this is a huge undertaking. I'm not rushing into this; its something I've been thinking about for a long time but I feel like getting the ball rolling will be the hardest part. Right now I need help talking through this roadblock. Thanks in advance.
posted by halseyaa to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You have yet to find a group that's a perfect fit, but have you met and talked with anybody from those groups yet? This project might benefit more from the right combination of people rather than the right organization. An organization could become the right organization.

Work on all initiatives at once, since I really don't see them as mutually exclusive - I see them as pieces that would all contribute to a potentially healthy whole. Set up some basic webpage with your mission. Meet with organizations around town to see if they'd be willing to collaborate on developing it. And, on the way, release info to get some publicity.

Things like this require growth - which is to say, they start small until they get enough critical mass to get bigger. It could start with adds on craigslist and a website with a message board (your option 2) while you pursue option (1).
posted by entropone at 9:05 AM on May 17, 2011

I would go for none of the above.

1: Budgets are tight at non-profits and demands are high. I think you will spin your wheels trying to get an established non-profit to start this program, and you'd likely lose control of it.
2: If you don't have connections, I don't think just starting an on-line group is going get you much traction.
3: You don't just start a non-profit (or anything) and get publicity for things you want to be able to do. You get publicity for doing something or being notable; just having an idea you want to float is neither.

So, what to do?
1) Network. This will be easier if you're actually a designer (I'll presume yes). Find a bar in a passably cool area of town. Get them to give you a room at the back in exchange for having an event there. Now, email every designer in town, and host a networking event there called "Design and the Community: Design Gives Back" or something. Don't solicit donations; you don't need any. Just have people show up and network--and have a stack of flyers about your proposal. [My lovely GF decided to do this here in Boston for her field. Everyone needs to network, and people really do show up.]
2) Follow up with people who expressed an interest about the project.
3) Get in touch with charities you like in your community and see if they need any help.
4) Put the designers from 2) in contact with the orgs in 3).
5) Repeat every month.
6) Once you have done this a few times, contact your local bar association and ask for someone to help with a tax exemption filing. You can actually put the exemption request together yourself, but it is easier to have help. Filing costs $850, which you will likely have to pay, plus any organizational fees to form an entity. Usually these are pretty modest.
7) Wait.
8) Success.

Obviously, you only need 501(c)(3) status if you plan on raising money, but it's not entirely clear to me that you would need to fundraise. What are your costs here? It's not clear to me that DesigNYC is a 501(c)(3) (though they may be a NYS exempt corporation, which is different).

There are also entities that are "fiscal sponsors" of charitable organizations that are not themselves exempt. One name I've seen is Fractured Atlas. Basically, they're 501(c)(3)s that accept donations on your behalf and then make you a special grant of the funds--less a cut for them, and subject to their ongoing oversight. At the end of the day, though, getting a tax exemption is not a big deal. I think the IRS gives out several thousand a year.

Definitely get a good URL and start a blog about this project right away to promote the endeavor.

I wouldn't blow this out of proportion in your mind. One person can do this. That one person is you. Good luck.

(For the record, this is not tax or legal advice, and I am not your lawyer.)
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:10 AM on May 17, 2011

There are national groups that do similar things. Sparked comes to mind, but there are others that might be interesting.
posted by judith at 11:15 AM on May 17, 2011

You could contact the original group and find out if they've got any suggestions or ideas on how to expand or set up your own. Their PR or media relations person might be glad to help and if you can dig up a local reporter or writer who also might be interested in helping you--publicity.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:48 PM on May 17, 2011

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