Building a business is difficult, but building a nonprofit has its own unique challenges. For starters, nonprofits like ours don’t have anything to offer in return for revenue except a sense of goodwill. Many nonprofits rely on donations to complete their missions.
To make things more difficult, our project is based on technology — the WWW. The site needs to provide an easy-to-use interface, to be safe with its data secure, and to connect to secure third-party software for income verification. And it needs to look good. Building a site that accomplishes what we want, provides the security its users need, and functions in a way that benefits and doesn’t frustrate is no small feat. To accomplish this successfully, we need money, and a lot of it. Unfortunately, relying on volunteers is neither efficient nor effective for a technology product that is not about technology. The computer platform Ubuntu was built by volunteers but for computer purposes.
On September 1, we began fundraising so that we can hire developers to build the site. We found a table for free on Craigslist and covered it with an old sheet with Sharpie-colored words, “Make Affordable Housing Happen Now.” Since we are starting from nothing, we had to start somewhere. At least a picture of our table gave us something interesting to post on our Instagram account (@careforus.us).
When this project first started, it was just me with an idea: create a networking site where people who needed things for a better quality of life could connect with people who had something to give. Care For Us went on the drawing board. Unfortunately, someone else in California had the name, another nonprofit that serves children with autism. As opposed to supporting a silo of people who had differences from others, I wanted to create a nonprofit that could involve anyone in the United States. With Bruce Wolfe as Treasurer and Cedric Bertelli as Secretary, and with the help of Larry Ross, CPA, we formed Care Association and applied for 501(c)(3) status, but kept the Care For Us name for the project.
When our status letter arrived in the mail, it came as a surprise having been months after the window of time in which the IRS said they would inform us of our status. By then, I had started graduate school thinking the project would never happen unless I funded it myself. I needed to make money if I were to fund it, and there weren’t any jobs out there that interested me enough. Someone at the Internal Revenue Service believed in what we want to do… or we just completed Form 1023 correctly, thanks to Mr. Ross.
More than a year after applying, our business plan is written, the organization’s website is up, and wireframes are in process. Most important, our focus has changed to affordable housing. While writing the business plan and looking for feedback, I realized that exchanging goods and services wasn’t on the forefront of people’s minds. But many people, perhaps most in the San Francisco Bay Area have been struggling with the lack of affordable housing. Even people with money that can afford the high prices are unhappy with the costs.
As with any business, building a nonprofit takes a lot of work. But unlike for-profit businesses, we rely on donations to help us get started. Having a business plan and applying for a loan isn’t really an option right now. Our first project is the Care For Us site, and it won’t be providing revenues right away if at all. Not only are we not for profit, we are also tech-related. We don’t have a program with active volunteers going out and meeting people’s needs, but we do have a plan and a vision. That vision includes bringing the nonprofit world to the frontier of technology.