Monday, January 19, 2015

Looking at Linked In for non profits

About a week ago, we've heard the good news. Something we were planning for and working on for months finally came true. Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation is  finally a tax exempt, 501(c)(3) charitable organization, with the effective date of its formation. It's a big milestone for us. Up until now we've been fiscally sponsored by the Jordan Klausner Foundation, a similarly focused disability non profit. It's where I first volunteered and then worked on for a few years and I've developed a close relationship with them. I will expand on the non profit formation issues later in the week, but those of my readers who are unfamiliar with American procedures should understand that unlike some European countries, where you simply form a non profit often with one document and then file it in court, here tax exempt recognition has stages. You form  an entity at the state level and then ask the IRS for a special designation. It used to be a long process involving projections, mufti- year business plans and a backlog estimated  at 270 days. We've finally done it. This great accomplishment, a burden lifted off my shoulder put me in a reflective mood. For about a year we've been part of the Linked In for nonprofits platform. It's a program that allows certain  non profits that join to seek out talent and put out free ads for volunteers. It's coordinators have long been asking for our thoughts, success stories and impressions. I thought it was finally a good moment to voice my opinion. I've learnt that the talent is transient - often joining in for a short while something we learnt to adjust to. But it doesn't change what some of our team members did for us in the best. It was their accomplishment as much as ours, so the first thing I did was thank those who left us since, because their work helped the project along. Then I shared the following with the Linked In team. I think it's an amazing resource for nonprofits given ts obvious limitations.

 A few weeks ago Meg Garlinghouse encouraged us to share positive experiences with the program. Here's mine: At the time Linked In for nonprofits launched I was ready to give it up. Sure, we had a great mission, that I felt extremely passionate about- but what is it worth if you don't have the resources (and you feel like your stuck and going in circles). We were never going to make it- and then the program came along. We've recruited a lot of people. Most of them didn't stick around, but many gave us that extra inch to push us a little bit more to get to us to that goal. One thing I've learnt about volunteers- they need structure. A lot of new organizations don't really have it and the impulse is to have a new person come in and do it for you. People don't work well that way and I feel we wasted a lot of good talent- because if that makes sense- we were figuring ourselves out and we wanted an external person to come in and figure out some of those things for us. 

But here's the real story: Then Jazzy came along. She applied for the position of the web designer , which I'm not sure but it may have been one of your predrafted ads. She is now our creative director. Ten years ago I moved from Poland to the US where I hoped my disability would be less of an issue and I became a lawyer. Jazzy/Jasmina is Polish. I didn't know that, I didn't pick her- one of my other team members did. She didn't know she'd be networking with a Polish person either. Her portfolio came highly recommended by our Board- I recognized the Polish last name and much to her surprise I replied in Polish. As it turned out she had just moved to Florida. She worked on big campaigns in Europe (as a marketing/creative person), launching a big budget video game and Mercedes on that market. She said she doesn't really volunteer (and hates "portfolio building opportunities) but something about that ad made her click it. From that point on we've been talking as much as 3 hours a day, she was able to pull products and programs out of our mission. And put them on a strategic timeline. It makes more sense now - how project clearly flow from one to the next and she made that happen. We've met on Linked In, we wouldn't have otherwise, now we're friends. FDAAF still struggles with the website- I have volunteers popping in and out- some as early as a week after they applied and interviewed and haven't really been active - because they found a job or just were looking for a more traditional setting. But I think that sometimes it's about meeting that one person that sticks. Effectively 2 people are still with us nearly a year later. But now we have a much clearer vision, better materials, a 501 (c)(3) status (we were fiscally sponsored by one before) so I do think great things are to come. And it's all because of Linked In. And our website may not look like anything today, but we'll get there.

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