Social change work is hard and frustrating and wonderful and terrible; it is also, at times, funny, quirky and just plain fascinating. With this blog we hope to capture all that goes into what we do at Capital Good Fund, and we invite you to join the conversation!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Tip For Starting Your Nonprofit - Don't Look Like A Putz

Here's a tip: when starting a nonprofit, do enough research to know what you're talking about.  I
learned this the hard way.  Way back in the summer of 2008, when I was doing some of the legwork for Capital Good Fund (speaking to community partners and potential funders, writing a business plan, etc.), I set up a presentation a group of bankers and financial experts.  The idea was to present to them my vision for a nonprofit financial service provider and to then get their feedback.

Great idea, right?  Well, everything was going swimmingly--people were getting so excited!--until the Q & A began.  The first question I got was, and I'll never forget this, "Tell us about your underwriting criteria."  Nothing wrong with the question save for the fact that I had no idea what on earth underwriting was!  What I don't recall is what I said in response, but I got feedback afterward to the effect that I looked like a bit of a putz.

Fortunately, I've since learned what underwriting is: it's simply the process of reviewing an application for a credit card, loan, insurance, product and the like.  Thus you can see why that was the first question; if you want to be a nonprofit lender, the criteria for denying or approving loans is pretty critical!

So don't look like a putz.  When you go into a meeting or presentation, get some background on the person to whom you are presenting.  Know exactly what you want to get out of it.  And most importantly, anticipate the questions you are likely to get and be ready to answer them.  For instance, if you are planning to offer free math tutoring to middle schoolers in Providence, you should at least know the fundamentals: what the problem is (e.g., Providence students are scoring 10% below the state average); what is currently available to students (if you don't know that there is already a large and well-funded tutoring program, for example, you're going to look like a putz!); and what you are thinking of offering, even if it's just a rough idea.

It isn't that you need to know everything, obviously.  Just enough to give people confidence that you are serious about the project.  Do that and people you'll be amazed by the extent to which people will offer your advice and make introductions to help you along the way!

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