In Pursuit of the Elusive Nonprofit: Episode One
The Game is Afoot
Docile and cagey by turns, the Nonprofit can be a mysterious beast to those new to its territory. One moment it seems within your grasp, the next you’re left sitting bleary-eyed in front of a stack of papers and tax forms completely baffled with no discernable trail to follow. Perhaps a clear view of the path taken by someone else – double backs, circles, dead-ends and all – will help yours run a bit more smoothly. Or, at least, help assure you when you’re ready to give up, that it’s alright – that’s just part of the trip, too.
I’ve been asked to chronicle my experience in forming a nonprofit from scratch. I have no real experience in this arena. Sure, I have plenty of skills that I can cobble together and will serve me well in the nonprofit world: I come from a marketing background, I took a course in grantwriting one time, I helped establish and run a pretty solid little volunteer organization…all things I’m grateful to have in my proverbial toolbox. And nowhere NEAR all the skills I’ll need to get this thing off the ground.
So, a long background story shortish, several years ago I clued into the whole broken food system memo and realized I wanted to (pardon the cliché) be part of the solution. But I felt I had no comfortable entry point. When I read an article about Crop Mob — a group of people getting together to volunteer on each other’s sustainable farms in North Carolina — I knew that was exactly the type of group I wanted to participate in.
Seeing as we didn’t have one in Atlanta, I very impulsively contacted the NC people and asked if we could replicate the idea here. They were completely supportive of the idea and glad to be hands-off and let it evolve. Suddenly, a few Facebook posts and a kickoff meeting later, I was running a group of volunteers at something in which I myself was a complete novice. I’m not a natural “organizer” and the whole thing really coalesced out of a spirit of “well…I want this and it’s not around, so I bet other people will, too!” Lo and behold, my gut was right – a few years later, Crop Mob Atlanta has spread into several locations across the state and farmer’s have enjoyed the help of hundreds if not a thousand eager volunteers. Along the way, I’ve been helped by the most wonderful, generous people I could imagine knowing in organizing and providing food, managing our online presence and coordinating the farms we go to. Everything about Crop Mob fell into place so fortuitously as to feel fated. While it still demands some work to organize, the whole thing practically fell into my lap.
Fast forward a few years and I’ve had another harebrained idea born of a similar spirit…I want a central location in the city where I can take classes on all of the skills I could need to live a more self-reliant, sustainable life. You know, all the good stuff: beekeeping, woodworking, canning, butchering, rainwater harvesting, knitting, permaculture – you name it. Something similar to the John C. Campbell Folk School but accessible in location, finances and time. Many places offer specific classes throughout the city, and some have a garden or kitchen focus, but I want to be able to go to a spot where I feel comfortable, part of a community, and know that I can find a variety of classes to fit my interests and desires to live more self-reliantly. Not to mention meeting tons of other folks with similar – and dissimilar – skills. And, I assume, much like Crop Mob, there must be other people who want the same.
Unlike Crop Mob, however, this demands quite a lot more planning and organization to thrive. A whole lot. In fact, it needs to be a nonprofit. So…somehow I went from being someone with a vague interest in learning how my food gets to my plate to avolunteer organizer to a future director of a nascent nonprofit. Still wrapping my brain around that one.
Thus far, we have a name: The Homestead Atlanta. We’re incorporated and filed a trade name, so it’s legit (more on that in the next post). We have a strategic plan, the beginnings of a board, a potential location, and some super amazing folks excited to teach classes in really awesome things. Heck, my best motivator is still that I can’t wait to take these classes myself!
So, I’ll check in here and there throughout the process to share – very candidly – the ups and downs, successes and failures of ambling one’s way through starting a nonprofit. I’ve already learned a few lessons, and have an innumerable amount left to go. Feel free to ask any questions you may have – I can’t promise proper guidance, but I can promise honest answers.
Now that I’ve shared my longwinded backstory, I’ll check back in soon with more technical steps we’ve taken so far as well as the challenges we’re currently wrestling with (and potential solutions!)
The Homestead Atlanta