Why I will never do another “free” nonprofit

Why I will never do another “free” nonprofit

I remember starting my nonprofit in college. I felt like an adult: 22 years old starting a nonprofit and ready to tackle every need that came my way. I remember receiving the letter from the IRS saying, “Congrats, Transition Furniture is a nonprofit.” I was ready to collect and fundraise thousands of dollars to turn the nonprofit into a full-time job! I quickly ran into a problem.

I was serving people for free! I wanted to help everyone that needed furniture. I did not ask questions, and I was so compassion driven that I quickly ran into burnout. I had to take a step back analyze my purpose in the mission of Transition Furniture. I restructured the process, but I still continued to serve people for free, and people did not pay a dime for the furniture they received. It became a problem, so what did I do? I took another step back.

I walked away from the nonprofit because I knew that my helping was not doing anything but continuing to empower people with a free label. I was serving people, but to what point was I serving them? Was I empowering them to continue to another free event? Was I telling them to come back again and get more free items? Was I truly serving people in need? Yes, I do believe in helping people in need, but when do we realize that meeting a temporary need is not always the answer.

I recently finished my MBA, and my thinking process has completely changed. Starting a nonprofit at the age of 22 was not the smartest idea. I thought money would flow in because I was young and making an impact on the community. I quickly realized that funders want to see sustainability before asking for money. Now, I have an idea of what I would have done differently.

If I could go back in time, I would setup a furniture store based on income. I made sure to get good quality furniture from the people wanting to donate to Transition Furniture. I would tell people, “If you would not have it in your house, please do not give it to me.” This would eliminate the idea that Transition Furniture was just the hand me down place to donate. The new idea for the store would be that families would be able to come in and purchase furniture at a price they can afford. There is a lot of hard working people out there, but furniture is expensive, and they cannot afford to buy new. Transition Furniture would be a place for affordable place to reward individuals/families for their hard work. Transition Furniture would be a place to restore hope in hopeless situations and give them the push they need to continue working hard. Shopping at Transition Furniture store would be the beginning of their empowerment journey.

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