4 Strategies For Running Your For-Profit Startup With A Nonprofit Soul

The nonprofit community is my home. I started volunteering for nonprofit organizations in middle school and never stopped. I did five nonprofit internships during college and all of my employment after graduation has been with nonprofits. I work forty hours per week for two nonprofits now. I never considered anything different because it was so clear this is where I belong.

One year ago my household income was cut by 60%. I considered it then.

When my wife quit her job last spring to become a full-time med student in a three-year $100,000 program, my salary became a lot more important – yet I still took a pay cut to work at a nonprofit I believed in. I half-heartedly looked for corporate jobs but never applied to any. Where do you look for a job off of idealist.org anyway? And wouldn’t the raise just be canceled out by having to buy fancy clothes?

This crossroads in my financial life is when I decided a traditional 9-5 was not going to cut it anymore. In the last year I have launched three brands – a mobile app, my social media consulting LLC, and a travel planning business – and bought in to half of another online company. All of these startups are for-profit, but it doesn’t rub me the wrong way.

Here’s how I struck the balance with my personal ethics and my need for cash:

My businesses serve mostly nonprofit organizations

I switched to the outside vendor side, but I’m still in the world of nonprofit organizations. The website, Facebook, Twitter, and database services I provide through The Communicationist to my clients are very similar to what I did (and do) as a nonprofit employee. I know these are services social good organizations need anyway, so the money I receive was already budgeted for basic online needs. For example, as a consultant I do blog copy editing for an organization that builds orphanages in Africa. Everything I do helps these organizations bring in more donations. I wouldn’t get to have these side projects if I hadn’t chosen to become a for-profit entrepreneur and set up the business infrastructure for my consulting company.

When it’s not a nonprofit, it’s something I believe in

Just because a business isn’t a 501(c)3 doesn’t mean that it is part of the corporate culture. My other consulting clients are mostly individuals launching their own businesses – it’s like being a woman-focused life and career coach. The mobile app’s mission is to help LGBTQ youth by helping them feel connected to their community’s history. (It just came out recently!)

My financial practices benefit nonprofit organizations

My consulting clients that are nonprofit organizations get a discount, as do nonprofit advertisers in the mobile app. I also donate a percentage of profits to charity. These were hard decisions to make because my wife and I truly need every penny I earn, but in your startup you should stay true to yourself and create an ethical brand.

I learned to leverage that brand to still reap some nonprofit benefits

Since I never abandoned the causes and projects I believe in, I can proudly stand behind my startups. When I was negotiating rates with developers, one asked me the question: “Is this a nonprofit?” It was the first time I had to answer “no.” I went on to explain the social good the app was doing and still got a discount (probably similar to a rate given to nonprofits). In all of my projects I can get more business because the clients know that their money is being partially donated and that it helps their image to be associated with an ethical brand.

I would say I miss working at nonprofit organizations, but I am still in the nonprofit world even after going for-profit.

If you can incorporate even one of these four strategies into your startup, it will help you and others feel good about your work – and that helps your bottom line.

Your turn: Do you work for or run a for-profit with a nonprofit soul? Do you feel guilt and how do you manage this? Please share with us in the comments section!

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