Thurston County's Hidden Sector

Thinking about starting your own nonprofit org?


There has been a lot of media coverage about the “Great Resignation” – individuals deciding to leave their jobs to pursue new, often diverse, careers. (I myself have contemplated everything from teaching yoga classes to candle-making).

While some may start their own small business, others may consider starting a nonprofit. These individuals often fall into two categories 1) they identify a need that is not being met in their community and want to form a nonprofit to address that need 2) they think it would be fun and easy to start a nonprofit and consider it a great way to make a salary. Let me assure you that response #2 cannot be more wrong.  [Editor’s Note: Amen to that!]

The birth of a nonprofit

When I teach classes in nonprofit management, I often describe the journey of developing a nonprofit as similar to the parenting experience.

Congratulations, you have just given birth to a new nonprofit and with it comes all the same joys and headaches as caring for a newborn baby. In this "infant stage," like a new baby, your nonprofit is totally dependent on you for sustenance (funding). You have to clean up after any issues that arise, and I guarantee you there will be sleepless nights. At this point, someone usually mentions grants – while it is common for individuals starting a new business to secure a small business loan, very few grants are available for start-up nonprofit organizations.

Your growing nonprofit baby

Eventually, if you are lucky, your nonprofit will grow from “infant stage” to “child stage.” Just a like a grade-school child, your nonprofit must still rely on you (the parent or founder) for most of their sustenance. However, like a child, your nonprofit may start to make friends who can provide additional support and friendship.


You along with your nonprofit will learn and grow throughout this process and hopefully move into the next stage of adolescence. The adolescence stage for a nonprofit is very similar to that of your rebellious teenager. This is the most volatile time for your nonprofit. Just like a teenager, your nonprofit may be starting to take some risks and venture into new areas that divert from the original mission. Also, like a teenager, your nonprofit may start to make friends who may not be acquainted with the original parent/founder of the organization.

The parent/founder may start to feel lost, unwelcome, or unneeded. (If you've parented a teenager, you'll know exactly what I mean.) However, if you have raised your nonprofit correctly, given it love, support, and guidance eventually your nonprofit will grow into an “adult” nonprofit. An “adult” nonprofit should be the goal of every nonprofit. This is a nonprofit that is strong, independent, and most importantly can live without its parent/founder. Occasionally, I have met nonprofit leaders that do not wish for the organization to outlive them, but this is unusual. Normally, if you believe in the mission of the organization, you will want the organization to continue fulfilling its mission within the community.

How long does this growth process take?

There is no set timeline. Just like some people may take longer “growing up” your nonprofit may find itself stuck in any of these stages and some nonprofits never make it to the adult stage.

 Soliciting your ideas

If you know of a nonprofit that is doing something great, celebrating a success, needs some outstanding volunteers or hosting an event, let me know! This column (aside from a little education) celebrates nonprofits! 

Mary Beth Harrington, CVA (Certified Volunteer Administrator) lives in Tumwater. She travels the country speaking at conferences and to individual organizations articulating issues facing nonprofits. Send your ideas to her at


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