The excuse of waiting until you’re old and rich before making a contribution to the collective betterment of society is a naive and harmful mindset.
Reading stories about the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of the world persuade us that only after supreme wealth can we afford to give back. However, doing good does not have to involve multi-billion dollar endowments, just like independent travel and seeing the world do not require multi-million dollar trust funds.
I don’t condone embarking on a charitable campaign ill-prepared and halfheartedly. You will cause more harm than good. But, if you’re waiting for riches and career success before starting a non-profit, you are missing the boat and may be waiting until it is too late.
Here are five reasons to give back and start a non-profit TODAY:
1. Social change is an interest earning investment. Start contributing early.
Anyone with a savings account understands the importance of compounded interest and saving sooner rather than later.
Social activism is no different.
The ripple effect of positive change grows exponentially over time. $250 today can fund a reading program in a rural school in northern Laos (see the Big Brother Mouse Program, for example) and teach hundreds of children how to read – doing far more for the education of those children and their future generations than $250,000 will do 50 years from now.
2. Getting started costs $0.
In the world of Web 2.0, the tools of successful start-up companies are free. Web content publishing platforms like WordPress, social networking/media sites like Facebook, and micro-blogging tools like Twitter are part of any successful company’s arsenal.
Non-profits should act no differently. Building a website using WordPress and marketing it via Facebook and Twitter is simple and a surefire way to start building a successful non-profit. Philanthropic and charitable causes were made to be marketed virally (a message that propagates itself by encouraging others to pass it along, versus paying for advertising) because campaigns that tug at human emotion are easy to sell!
Whether raising money for your own cause or for another charity, online fund raising tools are available and free. When campaigning for your own cause, Firstgiving and PayPal are two excellent fund raising tools depending on your purpose and your non-profit’s status (Firstgiving requires IRS 501(c)(3) status and recognition by GuideStar). Placing a PayPal “Donate Now” button on your website takes you from blogger to social entrepreneur in less than 10 minutes.
Raising money for other campaigns is even easier. Organizations like Room to Read offer users the ability to build their own fund raising pages through Firstgiving to raise money to build schools, in effect, taking away all fiscal responsibility and letting users focus on marketing and rallying support.
3. Start lean and mean, the motto of all successful businesses.
Everyone hates bloated charities that siphon 50% of donations off the top to fund operations and executive salaries.
Starting a non-profit with zero funding alleviates this problem, forcing you to implement effective and efficient processes early on. As your organization grows, these processes translate into a higher percentage of donations making it to the root cause, thus ensuring greater success for the lifetime of your non-profit.
4. Prevention costs less than correction.
Loaning a man $500 through a Kiva microloan to start a successful business today costs far less than supporting his entire family for decades on end, not to mention the cost of social degradation due to collective poverty. Success is contagious; it’s better to start early and let social change compound itself.
5. Life is an uncertainty. Leave this world with no regrets.Any traveler knows the importance of living without regrets. It is the core of his or her desire to see and experience the world. There are rarely any guarantees in life, except this. You may never become rich, but you will most definitely become old. "You must be the change you wish to see in the world," as Gandhi said . . . before it's too late.
For more tangible tips about starting your own non-profit or NGO, check out Roll Your Own Peace Corps and How to Start a Successful NGO in 10 Steps. If you’re not quite ready to tackle your own NGO-building project, check out Five Ways to Raise Money at Home for Your Causes Abroad.