These days, it seems that everyone is starting a nonprofit. What’s the appeal?
“The reason people start nonprofits is because they see a need and a void that they are passionate to fill,” says Paddy Morton, attorney with Maryland Nonprofits, an organization that serves to strengthen and educate the state’s nonprofit sector. “They’re doing public cleanup projects; they’re doing mentoring projects; they’re doing environmental projects or animal-rights projects. They’re filling the gap that the government can’t complete.”
But it takes more than a good idea and passion to start a successful nonprofit.
“You can’t run a nonprofit these days with a nonprofit mentality; you have to run it with an entrepreneurial mindset,” says Ed Hartman, executive director of the Community Crisis Center in Reisterstown, which works to prevent homelessness through various forms of assistance. “You have to run it like a business.”
While passionate advocates may feel driven to form their own nonprofits, others effectively partner with existing organizations, and some raise money by participating in marathons, yogathons or other fundraising events.
Officials at Maryland Nonprofits recommend that those intent on starting nonprofits do their homework. The process involves following legal procedures and creating business-development strategies. Filing IRS documents, articles of incorporation and bylaws are required on the legal side, and for business development, a nonprofit needs to identify its donor base, volunteers and board members and come up with a model for growth and success.
A Baltimore County motorcycle club, MCV (Motorcycle Club Five), formed its own 501(c)(3), MCVcares, in 2012 after the club already had been involved with charity work such as sending holiday packages to soldiers in Afghanistan. Club members say establishing the formal nonprofit gave them more legitimacy and made corporate entities more willing to donate.
“We would do it [the charity work] one way or the other,” says Carl “Diesel” Galler, vice president and co-founder of MCV. “Having the 501(c)(3) status adds some legitimacy and adds a level of confidence. It lends credibility to those folks [who donate] that we’re not just a ragtag bunch of people.”
The club, whose members are from Owings Mills, Reisterstown and Westminster, picks one charitable endeavor each year. Last year, it raised about $5,000 for the Hannah More School in Reisterstown, and this year it is hoping to raise $10,000 for the Living Classrooms’ Fresh Start program, which provides job training to young men who are recovering from substance abuse or coming from the juvenile justice system.
“Some of our members have lost some children to the disease of addiction, and we felt this dovetailed nicely with what we were doing,” Galler says.
In 2012, there were 23,739 501(c)(3) organizations operating in Maryland. The nonprofit sector is the fastest-growing employment sector in Maryland — and in the country, Morton says.
In Maryland, nonprofits have paved the way for lead abatement, which has significantly reduced the number of cases of lead poisoning. Hospice care also has benefited from the work of nonprofits, according to Maryland Nonprofits president and CEO Greg Cantori.
“Passion overrides the need for profits,” Cantori says. “There tends to be a very strong feeling that something is not just and that it needs to change. It could be anything from ‘Why are these kids not getting art education in schools?’ to ‘Why don’t they have a mentor in their life?’”
The lackluster music education program in Baltimore City’s public schools and a desire to give back using his musical skills led Kenny Liner to form Believe in Music. Liner, who toured with Baltimore rock band The Bridge for 10 years, has been teaching music in the city’s largest housing project, Perkins Homes, since September 2012.
But rather than starting his own nonprofit, he partnered with Living Classrooms.
“I really loved what Living Classrooms was doing already, and felt that I fit into what their mission was,” he says. “That’s a good way to get started, to partner with an already-established nonprofit whose mission coincides with yours.”
While he mainly raises his money from benefit concerts, utilizing contacts he made as a touring musician, he says he never turns down a good volunteer. Many nonprofits survive thanks to the work of volunteers.
“There are a lot of things that go behind being able to say ‘Oh yeah, we do dental, we give 3,000 pounds of food out a month,’” Hartman says. “There’s a lot of setup work before you do that. That’s all volunteers.”
Some people find themselves volunteering through unfortunate circumstances, such as Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen. In 2008, her mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and died 10 weeks later.
“I was shaken and looking for something to do,” she says.
She came across Free to Breathe, an organization that raises money for the National Lung Cancer Partnership. While she knew nothing about lung cancer prior to her mother’s diagnosis, she soon found out it kills more people than any other form of cancer. She learned about about a yogathon in North Carolina, and as a yoga devotee herself, she was intrigued.
“I ended up calling the organization expecting to just participate in an event and found myself running one,” she says. “I think that’s how this stuff happens.”
Rabbi Sachs-Kohen and Free to Breathe spearheaded Baltimore’s fifth event on Nov. 10, at the B&O Railroad Museum. This year, 141 people participated. While fundraising continues through the end of the year, more than $31,000 already has been raised.
“When you hear these stories of people who say we’ve changed their lives, it means the world,” says Gabi Green, endurance manager at Team Challenge, a half-marathon training program of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.
These good feelings do a lot more than make people feel warm and fuzzy, Cantori says. Research shows that the more people give of themselves, the better they feel physically and psychologically. Events such as marathons, yogathons and the like give people extra incentive and engage them further in causes, he says.
The Polar Bear Plunge, for example, raises money for the Special Olympics through people jumping into the frigid Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point Park during the winter.
“Who in their right mind would jump into 30- or 40-degree water? But they do, and they have a blast,” Cantori says. “It is fun, it’s kooky and it’s for a great cause.”