Summer Launchpad 2018 Series: Starting a Non-Profit

If you’ve been reading this blog and thinking about finally taking the first step in starting your own business, we’re here to remind you that no amount of research and reading will teach you as much as you will learn by taking action and talking to as many potential customers as you possibly can.

But the second fastest way to learn about what it takes to get a business off the ground is by learning directly from other founders who are taking action right now.

That’s why over the next few weeks we will be sharing the biggest surprises and lessons learned directly from the founders in Summer Launchpad. This way you can focus on the right first steps to get your business started, and avoid making the same mistakes as many other entrepreneurs.

To kick this series off, we interviewed the two nonprofit ventures in our accelerator to show that, though there is not one way to start a startup, even nonprofits need to intimately understand their “customers” and figure out how to make money.

Govern For America Photo

First up is the team behind Govern for America, who connects high potential recent undergrads to high impact roles with states in need of talent through a two-year Fellowship. Their aim is to create a more diverse, effective, and responsive government.

About the founders

Octavia Abell and Kyleigh Russ (Wagner '19) first met while studying at the Phillips Academy in Andover. Prior to starting GfA, Octavia designed and launched a statewide computer science initiative for the state of Rhode Island as Director of Strategy at the RI Office of Innovation. After graduating from Harvard University, Kyleigh launched the first computer science class in the charter school where she taught 5th and 6th grade. She also led fundraising at Noble and Greenough School.

NYU Entrepreneurial Institute: What's the one aspect of starting a nonprofit that most people are surprised by?
Govern for America: Nonprofits can and should generate revenue to be sustainable. The main difference is that in a for profit entity, the profit goes to shareholders, but in a non-profit any income generated goes back to funding operations. Nonprofit organizations need to think about stakeholders, such as beneficiaries and donors, as customers with problems that need to be solved just like any business should.

The Institute: In what ways is launching a nonprofit similar to launching a tech startup?
Both benefit from being able to tell a clear story with meaningful metrics and having a sustainable and scalable business model. Donors judge you on metrics just like investors judge you on metrics. People interested in funding nonprofit companies are not any less demanding than investors in for profit businesses. They need to see results in the form of tangible impact.

The Institute: What's a major achievement you accomplished in this short period of time?
We have been able to create about 20 university partnerships. We also have attracted an amazing group of advisors and mentors, many of whom are founders and CEOs of successful nonprofits of their own.

The Diversity Org Photo

Next, we had a chance to sit down with Joshua Pierce (Tisch ’18) of The Diversity Organization. Their mission is to combat social issues by uniting people together through education, video content, and positively impacting communities.

About the founder

Joshua started The Diversity Organization while still at NYU Tisch where he studied music production. He has worked in video production at BET and TV1, and produces content as a Youtube Partner with 1.5 Million views amassed to date.

The Institute: What's the one aspect of starting a nonprofit that most people are surprised by?
The Diversity Org:
Nonprofit boards are often poorly managed. To combat this, I brought on 3 people to my board that come from very different backgrounds - education, finance, and operations. In our meetings I strive to get candid feedback from the board on my performance by asking for it directly. You also need to make sure to have specific asks for certain members of your board to get the most value from the group.

The Institute: In what ways is launching a non-profit similar to launching a tech startup?
Growing brand awareness for a nonprofit is just as important as for a for profit business. By establishing my personal brand as an influencer on social media, I have been able to create awareness about my nonprofit’s cause. Students who see my videos help to get us into their schools for assemblies, and donors are more likely to engage when they can see the impact of our work. Once we were able to get social media traction, Youtube reached out to make me and The Diversity Org a part of their program, Creators for Change, which is comprised of just 100 other Youtubers.

The Institute: What's a major achievement you accomplished in this short period of time?
Over the last two years we’ve partnered with 10 schools, NYC Office of the Mayor, and YouTube. With Youtube, once you reach over 10,000 subscribers, which took me 4 months, you get access to their spaces globally. You can use the space and the equipment for video production, and you also get access to exclusive industry events.