3 Nonprofit Myths Exposed (+5 Ways to Dispel Them Forever)

Derik Timmerman

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Does this sound like you?

You worked your butt off to get your nonprofit started.

You feel like you’re in the game 24/7, searching for donors, encouraging volunteers, and looking after your constituents’ needs.

You dedicate time, talent, and heart for one simple reason: you care.

You care about kids running around in wintertime with no shoes.

Or about puppies jammed into tiny cages at a breeders’ farm.

Or about farmers in Southeast Asia living below the poverty line.

But as early as now, there are whispers.

“He’s so smart, why didn’t he become a doctor or lawyer?”

“She became a nonprofit leader because she’s too lazy to join the cutthroat for-profit world.”

And sure, you didn’t start your organization to win admiration. You’re not doing it for the pat on the back.

Still, it hurts. 🩸

You want encouragement, not criticism.

If this sounds like you, read on.

I’ll expose three huge myths a ton of people believe about nonprofits, plus what you can do to counter them…

…so you can get rid of nagging naysayers, sail forward, and conquer your goals.

Ready to get started?

Let’s go!

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3 BIG NON-PROFIT MYTHS PEOPLE NEED TO STOP BELIEVING NOW

Sure, no nonprofit is perfect.

We all have our flaws and our low moments.

But the truth is, many nonprofits unfairly get a bad rap.

Here are three myths no one should believe about nonprofit organizations.  

Myth #1: People Who Work for a Nonprofit Have Low Talent

You’ve probably heard it a ton of times.

“If they could make it in the for-profit world, they’d be doing that.”

“If he’s that smart, why didn’t he become a doctor?”

“He couldn’t make any money, so he decided to start a nonprofit.”

If you’ve been hearing this talk, it’s time to plug your ears right now.

The more you listen to it, the larger your doubts will grow.

In time, you’ll have a huge collection of limiting beliefs that make you start to think… “Maybe they’re right.”

“Maybe I don’t have talent.”

“Maybe I’m not smart enough to make it in the for-profit world.”

I could stand beside you and yell in your ear, “THAT’S NOT TRUE!” a thousand times…

…or I could show you examples to prove it.

Here are three you’ll love.

1. Reshma Saujani

reshma saujani

Source: Twitter

When you read Reshma’s story, you can’t shrug and say, “She runs a nonprofit because she couldn’t do anything else.”

Far from it!

Reshma could have done a TON of things with her brains, passion, and talent.

She’s:

  • A graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Yale Law School
  • An attorney
  • The first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress

She could have done anything she wanted.

But what did she choose to do?

She started a nonprofit organization called Girls Who Code.

girls who code

Its mission is to close the gender gap in the tech industry.

So far, it has reached over 300,000 girls across the globe.

girls who code stats

Inspiring much?

2. Albert Manero II

Albert’s belief is that disabled children deserve bionic arms, with no cost to their families.

That’s why he co-founded Limbitless, an organization specializing in delivering 3D printed bionic arms to kids around the globe.

limbitless twitter

Is Albert a talentless person who “couldn’t do anything, so he decided to run a nonprofit”?

Of course not.

In fact, he’s a mechanical engineer who earned a PHD from the University of Central Florida.

With his talent and ingenuity, he could have started a tech company, worked for his dream agency in Silicon Valley, and made himself a ton of money.

Instead, he chose to dedicate his life to making disabled kids feel whole again.

3. Amitabh Shah

When Amitabh earned his MBA from Yale at 23-years-old, his family and friends immediately began imagining his future.

They pictured him becoming a billionaire running his own organization, or working for a top company and retiring to luxury.

What shocked them is he didn’t do either.

In fact, he passed up a lucrative job offer from Wall Street and returned to his homeland to work in the dusty streets of the underprivileged in India.

Today, his nonprofit organization Yuva Unstoppable has impacted the lives of over 600,000 Indian children.

yuva unstoppable

So, let me ask you.

Is running a nonprofit for talentless people? People who couldn’t get into top companies or start their own business?

I don’t think so.

If you doubt your brains, your abilities, and your skills…

…it’s time to stop right now. 🛑

You didn’t choose to start a nonprofit organization because you couldn’t do anything else.

You did it because, like Reshma, Albert, and Amitabh…

…you have heart. ❤️

 Myth #2: There Are Too Many Nonprofit Organizations Out There

Have you heard this one?

“You’re too specific. If you pooled your resources with other nonprofits, you could do so much more.”

Maybe you’ve been thinking about it.

You’ve been asking questions like, “If I joined forces with X, could we grow together with a larger and more diverse source of funding?”

The short answer to this is, you shouldn’t.

 The longer answer is, the most effective organizations are small to mid-size nonprofits with VERY specific missions.

Here are two great examples.

1. Polar Bears International

polar bears international

Polar Bears International has one mission: “To conserve polar bears and the sea ice they depend on.”

Pretty specific, right?

But that doesn’t make the organization less effective.

In fact, it reached 2.9 million people and generated a total of $3,290,121 in 2019 alone.

2. The Hidden Genius Project

the hidden genius project

The Hidden Genius Project is dedicated to preparing and training young black males to work in the tech industry.

Its mission is specific, I know.

But so far it has reached and helped over 7,000 individuals and provided 310,400 hours of direct training.

the hidden genius project stats

Myth#3: Nonprofit Leaders Have Low Worth Ethic

“He started a nonprofit so he could breathe a little.”

“She was stressed out and exhausted in the for-profit world, so she decided to slow it down by running a nonprofit.”

Ever hear that?

If you have, you know it isn’t true.

So far, you’ve been slaving away to make your nonprofit work.

You’ve put in a ton of unpaid hours.

You’re reached into your pocket countless times when the funding ran low.

You’ve spent sleepless nights stressing over an unsolvable problem.

Did you start your nonprofit so you could relax?

Of course not.

You did it because of your true devotion to a cause.

There’s no other reason to do it.

For proof, go back to the nonprofits I mention above.

Think of Amitabh, foregoing a luxurious life working for Wall Street and choosing to work without pay in poor, dusty Indian streets.

Think of Reshma dealing with a huge problem: the number of women in the tech industry declined from 37% in 1995 to 24% today.

Those who think running a nonprofit is for people with low worth ethic are dead wrong.

How to Bust the 3 Common Nonprofit Myths Once and for All in 5 Simple Steps

It can be disheartening to hear all the talk going on around you.

Here are five simple ways to make it stop for good.

1. Be Transparent on Social Media

Want people to see your organization’s talented individuals and amazing work ethic?

Harness social media!

Give the 3.8 billion social media users a peak into your operations. Be open and honest. Show them your challenges as well as your wins.

In time, the myths about low work ethic and talent will fade.

Here’s an excellent example from UNICEF USA.

2. Run Video Features

Did you know that 87% of marketers use video as a powerful marketing tool?

And while you’re not selling anything, video can do the same for you as it does for them.

So, go ahead.

Shoot some stunning videos.

Make people see what goes on behind the scenes of your nonprofit.

Feature volunteers and staff.

This will help not only you, but everyone else on your team who might suffering from negative talk on nonprofit work.

Check out this amazing example.

3. Reach Out to Volunteers for Testimonials and Social Reporting

Your volunteers know firsthand what it’s like to work for world change.

They know the struggles, the disappointments, and the challenges.

This makes them the best people to dispel the nonprofit myths hounding your organization.

So ask them for testimonials. Tell them to go on social and share their experiences. Report stories of changed mindsets. 

Check this example out.

4. Don’t Get Defensive…

I know, it’ll never be perfect.

No matter what you do, the naysayers will remain.

But don’t get defensive.

You won’t argue them down if they’re 100% committed to bringing your organization down with words.

5. …but Keep Going!

In your heart, you know why you started your organization.

It wasn’t because you tried and failed in the for-profit world. (In fact, with your work ethic as a nonprofit leader, I bet you’d be making millions if you’d decided to join the corporate world!)

It wasn’t because you wanted to chill and take it easy.

And it wasn’t because you’re not smart, talented, and skillful.

It’s because you heard a cry for help, and you came.

You came for someone who needed you.

So keep going.

You’re doing amazing work, and it doesn’t matter how many myths sprout up about nonprofits in the future.

3 Nonprofit Myths Exposed: How to Remove Them from Your System for Good

I know, you’re bending over backward to change the world.

It’s exhausting, thankless work.

Plus, you get hit all the time by cruel remarks.

You’re not good enough. You’re lazy. You’re not smart enough to be in the corporate world. You’re doing it wrong.

Let me tell you this.

You’re already doing better than all the naysayers by having started up your nonprofit in the first place.

And with social media, video, and the power of the internet?

You can set things straight.

So, go ahead. Post those volunteer testimonials. Shoot those videos. Tell the world what you’re doing. Give them a sneak peek into your work.

In no time, the negative talk will slow to a trickle.

Maybe it won’t stop completely, but who cares?

Keep going, keep fighting, and keep helping.

You’ll change the world one step at a time.

I believe in you!

Want more tips on running your nonprofit?

Watch our FREE masterclass today for the step-by-step essentials of nonprofit leadership.

About The Author

Derik Timmerman is the founder of Sparrow Nonprofit Solutions. When he’s not serving nonprofit leaders, he geeks out on philosophy, outdoor trail time, and video games with his three kids.