The last several years of social and political upheaval have been met with an explosion of grassroots fundraising and activism. As communities, leaders, and activists rise to meet the challenges of our rapidly changing social fabric with newly formed nonprofits, they often run into barriers to expansion, and their charitable or activist efforts become kneecapped.
The issues these organizations face can be logistical, as rapid expansion requires an increase in staff and funding that may not be readily available, and institutional, such as clashes with older and more established support systems. One such organization is Make Us Visible, co-founded by Council member Mike Keo.
Make Us Visible seeks to have AAPI history included in K-12 curricula across the country. They have seen rapid success, with bills being passed in Connecticut and New Jersey and others being considered in New York, Florida and Rhode Island. Make Us Visible currently has chapters in 10 states, and has received requests to open chapters in several other states just in the last month. But with this success come questions of scale, and how to best go about expanding at such a rapid pace.
To answer these questions, NationSwell convened a group of experts from the nonprofit, business, finance and activism sectors to help create a roadmap that Make Us VIsible and other new organizations can follow to ensure success as they build out their operations.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the discussion:
Flesh out your longer term institutional goals:
While pursuing your organization’s stated goal, it is beneficial to devise a plan for what the organization itself should look like and be doing within the next three to five years. Bringing on a consultant to go over your staffing, fundraising, and structural plans is a relatively quick way to achieve this goal and prevent your organization from having to come up with staffing and leadership solutions on the fly.
Decide early on how to financially structure your organization:
There are numerous financial structures available to new organizations. Registering as a 501c3 or securing a fiscal sponsorship are two of the most common. There are advantages and disadvantages to both arrangements, but it is important to make a decision early on to help facilitate funding and avoid liability issues resulting from improper donations. If looking for a fiscal sponsor, be sure to find one that is aligned with your organization’s goals, as problems can arise when they are not.
Try to secure cash early:
Money can solve a lot of problems, especially for a fledgling organization. It’s always beneficial to have some cash on hand, rather than be constantly chasing donations at the start. In a situation where an organization is not capable of accepting donations, it’s important to maintain relationships with entities that have offered gifts or financial investments. If possible, secure pledges for donations in writing, so that when the organization reaches a point where it can accept these gifts, the offers are still there.
Create a clear organizational structure that can be copied across multiple chapters:
As an organization grows, it’s critical to have an operating structure that is clear and can be implemented across the board as new chapters form. Create a clear hierarchy and communication structure between local chapters and national leadership so that there are no surprises on either end. It is also important to be clear up front about what your organization does and does not do, to avoid a situation where a new chapter forms and the local leadership pursues goals that are not in line with the overall organization’s.
It’s important to remember that this can be a trying and difficult process. Rapid expansion can bring unanticipated consequences like burnt out colleagues and volunteers and ruined friendships. This is especially true in the current moment, as we slowly emerge from the pandemic with the wright of the past two years still firmly on our shoulders. Leaders of these organizations should do their best to mitigate these negative aspects, while understanding that the road will inevitably get rough.
The NationSwell Council community brings together a diverse, curated community of bold individuals and organizations leading the way in social, economic, and environmental problem-solving. Learn more about the Council here.