October 12, 2016

Have an idea that will change the world? Don’t forget this one step

The co-founder of Project Helping learned the hard way how to build a successful nonprofit.

Justin and Ashlee Kruger, center, founded Project Helping, an organization whose mission is to "use the joy and purpose created by volunteering to improve mental wellness." Photo courtesy of Project Helping

You have a tremendous idea to change the world. You are passionate about that idea. You know it will help people and you really believe in it. When you are this passionate and resolute that you can help people, it is easy to assume others will share your passion, see your vision and want to be a part of it. That’s the first mistake I made.

I started Project Helping based on my personal experience. What a great story, huh? That’s what everyone told me anyway. And it is a great story: I’ll build this nonprofit, tell people about it, and they will all be as excited as I am. They will all want to be a part of it in some capacity. Raising money will be easy because it’s such a worthy cause, right?

Of course it is, but there are a lot of worthy causes. There are a lot of great people doing great work and all of those people are passionate about it. They are all helping people and making a difference. But the moral of this story is, this isn’t “Field of Dreams”; you can’t just build it and they will come.

The very first mistake I made—and there are many others—was thinking that I just had to build this idea and the support would come. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had tremendous support, but only because we’ve worked hard at it. That wasn’t always the case. I spent about a year and a half telling my story with no real purpose. By that, I mean I didn’t know what I needed, what to ask for, or how to really engage people in the organization.

Know exactly what you need to succeed and get comfortable asking for it.

How can you avoid this same mistake? Plan your work and work your plan. So much of my time was spent on the idea and how we were going to help people that I didn’t take the time to think about how to get people to help us. Spend the time planning your fundraising, your messaging and your brand. Understand with absolute clarity what you need to be successful. If you need money, know exactly what it’s for and how you’re going to use it. If you need board members, decide what skills they need and how you expect them to be involved. If you need volunteers, know what they will be doing.

Every meeting I go into now, I know as much as possible about the person, their interests, and how I envision they can help or be involved. If you don’t do the same, you will miss endless opportunities to build the vital network of support that you need to be successful. Don’t tell your story, no matter how compelling, and expect someone to offer their help without you asking.

It is easy to fall into the trap that you have a great cause, a great mission or a great idea. Spend the time. Build the plan. Know exactly what you need to succeed and get comfortable asking for it.

Justin Kruger

Co-founder of Project Helping

Justin Kruger is the founder and CEO of Project Helping, a Denver-based nonprofit that organizes volunteer events specifically designed to make an impact—both on the volunteer and his or her community.