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I could write a book... about all my mistakes in leading a non-profit.

April 8, 2024

Like most people who start non-profits, I did it because of a vision, to empower under-resourced neighborhoods to thrive. I had many conversations prior to it, and probably did not listen as well as I should have before I got started. I don't remember anybody encouraging me NOT to do it. So, here we are 18 years later and I keep telling young people NOT to do it. Not because there is no passion, not because I am afraid of competition, not because I don't believe in the cause, but because, running a non-profit is hard work. Most non-profits fail within the first 5 years, most struggle to make ends meet, and many non-profits are run by people who do not take a salary.

Non-profits are lumped into one big bucket, which can include multibillion dollar budgets or a small budget like ours. While large entities (like hospitals) can survive the higher costs (salaries, insurance, rent etc.), most smaller non-profits struggle with wage increases and cost of living increases.

Leading a non-profit is not for the faint of heart. How do we balance the work load and the lack of resources? How do you work for justice but can't pay a livable wage? How do you ensure not to have mission drift when the money is in grants? How do stay innovative and stay true to your mission?

It is so easy to judge an organization for not getting things right, it is so easy to have an opinion about a group without getting your hands dirty. It is easy to see what is wrong and not what is going well.

I have made mistakes, not the moral kind, but the strategic kind, like shutting down programs too early, planning too many things and expecting too much from the staff. I have not always on-ramped people well. I've missed calls from a person who wanted to volunteer, delayed a report that needed to be written, or not thanked a donor fast enough.

But I have also done things right: equipping dozens of people who are now in the job market and moving out of poverty. Created community centers that help people have access to resources that will help them move forward. Hired amazing staff that work hard and love to help the community. Changed the way we see people - not as recipients of services but as neighbors and community members. Ensured that kids have a safe place to be after school and now seeing some of the youth going into college.

I will make more mistakes, even after all these years, running LifeLine is not easy, there are daily decisions that need to be made, there are strategic alignments that need to happen, there are ….. well. you get the picture.

So if you see me struggling, know that I am doing my best and would love to invite you to be part of the work we are doing. Join our board and help give direction, join our volunteer force and use your skills to help others, partner with us financially to empower others.

Well, while I wrote this about LifeLine, probably most non-profits in this town could write similar things. We are doing our best with what we have but we will make mistakes, we want to make a difference in this world, but it is not always easy, so come and join us, we always need good people!

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