So you *think* you may want to start a non-profit? Congratulations! Starting Girls Who Code was one of the best and bravest decisions of my life, but it wasn’t easy. Leaving aside the paperwork and all the day to day challenges of startups (that’s a post for another time!), there are a few things I wish I had known from the beginning. So if you’re on the fence, here’s my advice to you.
1. Start before you’re ready. Non-profits are daunting, and if you’re reading this article you’ve probably read a dozen more and may even be starting to think you can’t do it. Before you talk yourself out of it, stop trying to be perfect and just start! With Girls Who Code I started by buying the URL. Take the first step, and then take another, and then another.
2. There will be haters. When you are starting a new endeavor you will have a ton of conversations with people from your mom to your partner to your barista where you share your idea. No matter how brilliant you are, there will be people who ask, “what makes you an expert?” You can imagine how much of this I got as someone who didn’t even code. Ignore them. Tune out this noise and trust yourself.
3. Know your “why” — and lead with it.While you don’t need to be an expert, running a non-profit takes passion. It’s not something you want to do unless there is a problem you are obsessed with solving, and often that means you have a personal connection to it. So as you define your mission, ask yourself why – why you care, why it matters. When you believe, you will bring others with you.
4. Non-profit doesn’t mean no money. If you think you’re escaping the world of hustling for money, you’re in for a rude awakening. A lot like running for office, asking for money is something that you’re going to be doing all day every day for many, many years. The good news? It’s for a good cause 🙂
5. Your model will change. You probably have a very specific idea of what your non-profit will do and how. At Girls Who Code, we started by teaching 20 girls in a conference room at a technology company. And then we realized we could reach more students in more markets by adding an after school program. Now, we’ve reached 185,000 girls. Your mission shouldn’t change, but your model may. Don’t be afraid to innovate.
6. Your impact will make it all worth it. When I see the girls in our programs succeed, I am like a proud parent. It is a privilege to serve others, and Girls Who Code has given me that opportunity. So no matter how hard it can be, at the end of the day I am grateful to have 185,000 daughters and the best job in the world.