Why You Shouldn’t Start a Charity and What you Should Do Instead

Nonprofits are inherently inefficient. No matter what, a traditional charitable organization that depends on donations to survive will take double the work, if not more, to accomplish its mission. It’s in the bones of the concept. There are better ways to do it.

So You Want to Start a Nonprofit

Do you want to start a nonprofit? Do you see a need that you think you can fulfill with a creative new solution? I know you’re excited, and you want to start right now, but just wait. Let’s do some working and thinking first.

Do Your Research

Research for hours, for days, for months even! Do not stop until you are 100% sure that an organization doing something even remotely similar does not already exist. If it does, change course. Help them. I’m very sure they would LOVE your help and suggestions, unless they are huge and overly bureaucratic or they’re brand new and the founder still has founder’s syndrome (give them another year, they’ll change their tune).

Stay Away From the 501(c)(3)

Okay, you have researched to the ends of the internet and you cannot find anything even close to what you want to do. You are absolutely sure that your idea will revolutionize the world! Still don’t start a charity. “But, Veronica!” Hear me out.

Start a for-profit business that accomplishes your goal while making money. You may have to change your idea a little or a lot, but I promise if you think creatively enough, you will find a way. Begging for money takes So. Much. Time.  Then, once you get the money, you often are very restricted in how you can spend it. This make creative problem solving and changing paths on the fly when issues come up quite difficult.

There’s also the board management, the data collection and management (gotta keep those funders happy with numbers), the extra filing work, the restrictions, the meetings, the events. It all takes so much time — time you could be spending doing the work to solve the problem.

The Example

Let me give you an example. I founded a charity called Project Food Forest. The mission of our organization is to plant public food forests in and near Sioux Falls, SD. We utilize what we call “host sites,” who are private land owners who agree to plant a food forest on part of their property, welcome the public onto that part of their property, and maintain the food forest.

We use donations and grants to fund our projects. I also have done private landscaping designs and consultations. All of that money went straight back into Project Food Forest’s account. I have not taken one penny for salary, and we have not been able to hire any staff. About a year ago, I experienced severe burnout, and I haven’t even remotely recovered. We are stuck at a hump where in order to do the things we need to do next, we need to have more resources, but the board and I are taxed, with nothing left to get over that hump.

Needless to say, it has been exhausting, inefficient, and difficult. I like to be efficient with everything I do and spending so much time asking for money rather than doing the thing I wanted to do seems ludicrous to me.

Necessary disclaimer here: I am eternally grateful for all the donations and grants our organization has received. People love to give money to help solve problems and fulfill needs, and that is awesome. However, if I could start over, I would make it much more efficient and cut out at least 75% of the work. And this is what I am advising to anyone looking to start a nonprofit.

A better way to set up Project Food Forest would have been to start a for-profit low-maintenance edible landscape design and consultation organization that uses part of the income earned to design and implement the public food forests. We should have charged host site property owners for our services to design, coordinate, and help implement the food forest. This would help fund our work and the materials for the project, but it would also help ensure a greater sense of ownership of the food forest. If they have to pay for it, they really want it, and they’re going to make sure they have the resources to maintain it.

From the get-go, we had the charitable ask mindset rather than a sell mindset. Not only would a sell mindset in this example be more efficient and easier, it would be more sustainable. Project Food Forest would be more sustainable as a company (for one, I would have been earning money for the countless hours I worked and probably would have been less likely to burn out) and the food forests themselves would be more sustainable.

I will add that there are benefits nonprofits receive that would be harder to receive as a for-profit. For example, posting on online volunteer boards like volunteer.org would not be possible, and it might be harder to get volunteers as a for-profit. Not impossible, just harder. Nonprofits often receive steep discounts on software, pay less in taxes, and donors’ contributions are tax-exempt. But even accounting for all the benefits we get as a nonprofit, I still think a for-profit would be much more sustainable. Creative thinking will get you around every obstacle you encounter, especially when you have the freedom of a non-charitable business.

For-Profit Can Be For-Purpose

For-profit doesn’t equal greedy, evil, businessmen in suits. All it means is you are earning money to do a thing. The purpose of each organization might differ; many businesses do exist simply to make all the money. But many of them exist to solve problems, and they make money doing it. Do not be a martyr. You’ll get sick of it, and your family will get sick of it. Be efficient. Make money. Love life. Lift yourself up while you are lifting others up. It will all work so much better.

If you’re thinking of starting a nonprofit and don’t think it’s possible to do it as a for-profit, post your idea and situation in the comments! I’ll try to help with some creative thinking, and other readers can lend their ideas as well.

Is a Lawn Right For You? How to Choose the Best Low-Maintenance Landscaping

Here’s a bit of trivia for the American readers, what we refer to as a lawn or a yard, most of the rest of the world would call a garden. We tend to think of “gardens” like flower or vegetable beds requiring a lot of work, and of lawns (mowed grass) as something easier to maintain. And while this can be true, it doesn’t have to be. In this post, I’ll show you how to make your yard lazefficient.

This article contains a couple affiliate links for some of the products that I use myself and suggest to others. I only recommend products that I use and like. If you decide to purchase an item from a link, it will help me be able to provide more awesome content for you.

Why most lawns are not lazefficient

Lawns require mowing at the very least, usually about once a week. Depending on your lawn and your mower, that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours. Plus you need to maintain your mower and other lawn equipment. Most people also do one or more of these additional tasks: trimming, watering, fertilizing, applying pesticides and/or pulling weeds, aerating, dethatching, raking, and reseeding.

“But I hire out,” you might say. Well, then you are paying someone else money to do it, and you traded your time to make that money. This means you are likely either prioritizing your lawn over other things (like saving, investing, traveling, etc.), or you are working more to make more so you can also have those things. Either way, it will cost you time.

If you have a lawn, I’d like you to take a minute and think about these questions.

Why do you have a lawn?

Do you prefer the look of lawns over other types of gardens? Do you and your family and pets play in or otherwise utilize the lawn? Do you think it might just be the least work? Do you want to fit in socially?

How much time do you spend on your lawn?

Track how much time you spend on your lawn over the growing season. How important are those hours to you? If they are more important than your lawn, then you may want to consider replacing it with something lower maintenance (see below).

Do you need a lawn?

Some people are required to maintain lawns, usually because of homeowners associations. If that’s so, you’ll need to keep the lawn or work to change the rule holding you back from lawn freedom.

Should you keep your lawn?

If you take great pride in your lawn, and you love the look and utility of lawns, then spending your time and money on it makes sense. If you don’t really see a compelling reason to keep spending all your time and money on a lawn, I’ve got some options for you.

Keep the lawn, reduce the maintenance

There are ways to make a lawn require less maintenance.

  1. The less you fertilize and water the slower your grass will grow. Do not wait until the grass gets long and then mow it super short. That will severely stress the grass and invite many more weeds, some of them invasive, which you will then have to spend time eradicating. Mow high on a regular basis.
  2. Stop giving a damn what others think. Let non-invasive “weeds” grow. Many of them actually are trying to improve the quality of the soil. And if you have a hot, dry spell, your lawn will be greener than others who don’t water, because some of the weeds will be more tolerant to drought than grass.
  3. Don’t rake. Just mow over the leaves to shred them. This saves you time raking and fertilizing.
  4. Choose other grasses. Some grasses are easier to maintain (and more eco-friendly) than others. You’ll want to make sure you have a mix of cool season and warm season grasses, the right grasses for the amount of shade you have, and native grasses that can tolerate your climate’s extremes. There are also grasses that grow low or fall flat so you might not have to mow at all (check with your city’s ordinances if you live in town).
  5. Replace your grass with low-growing plants that don’t need to be mowed and can tolerate foot traffic. Stepables.com has many options to look at. Pros: You’ll still have an area in which to play and entertain with less work. Cons: Grass and other taller growing plants will find their way into your yard and you’ll have to either keep pulling them or start mowing again. Especially if your yard is very sunny. If it’s in full shade and you plant an aggressive shade-loving understory, you might have an easier time.
  6. Replace gas-powered lawn equipment with electric equipment. We have this mower and this trimmer (affiliate links). The only maintenance we have to do is sharpen the blade on the mower and replace batteries (last for years). I’m so glad we don’t have to worry about engines and gas and spark plugs. Bonus — they are much quieter than gas-powered machines as well.

Replace the lawn

If you don’t use your lawn, and you don’t particularly prefer the look of a lawn over other options, or you want to save time on lawn maintenance while also having a great looking yard, consider replacing the lawn with something else. Here are some options:

  1. Wildflower gardens
  2. Native prairie gardens
  3. Wooded area/grove
  4. Food forest

It depends on your property’s size, location, and other conditions, but the more natural a garden is, the easier it is to maintain. What do you want out of it? Do you just want something easy? Pretty? Do you want something that’s beneficial to the local wildlife, or maybe even food and medicine for your family? You really can grow food and medicine in a low-maintenance garden. I do it in my front yard, and it does much better than my annual vegetable garden (which I will be giving up after this year, because it’s not lazefficient enough for me).

Here is my front garden. It consists of only perennials or self-seeding annuals. Most of the plants in the garden are edible or medicinal. The rest are pretty and beneficial to wildlife. I designed this garden to form a little ecosystem where all the plants, and the visiting animals, work together to support each other, requiring less work from me. Here is a list of many of the plants harmonizing in my front yard

  • Apple tree
  • Chives
  • Garlic
  • Chicory
  • Yarrow
  • Comfrey
  • Milkweed
  • Salvia
  • Sunflowers
  • Carrots
  • Mints
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Parsnip
  • Salsify
  • Lovage
  • Rhubarb
  • Rainbow orach
  • Lambs quarters
  • Wild strawberry
  • Silver buffaloberry
  • Purple poppy mallow
  • Coneflower (echinacea)
  • Black-eyed susan
  • Garden sorrel
  • Salad burnet
  • Mustard
  • Valerian

These plants grow densely and the ground is also mulched, so most weeds are suppressed. I only spend maybe a total of one hour, probably less, in the entire growing season pulling weeds. Unless I’m trying to germinate new seeds, I also do not have to water this garden. These plants all grow like weeds, so I don’t need to fertilize other than chop-and-drop mulching and whatever the animals leave behind for me.

Here’s a commercial a local nonprofit aired featuring my property a couple years ago (skip to 0:53 to get to my yard or watch the whole thing to learn about river health).

We have a lawn, too, and we spend exponentially more time just mowing and trimming the lawn than I spend on the garden. We chose that trade-off because we do use our lawn areas. That’s something we will continually assess as our family grows and changes. But my front gardens are my absolute favorite part of our yard right now. 

I’ll write other posts that give more detail on how to implement these low-maintenance gardens, so definitely subscribe if you’re looking forward to that. If you want to make changes now and don’t feel like you can take the time to learn everything, contact me and I can help you remotely with a consultation.

What’s Lazefficient?

Are you lazy? I’m lazy. I used to think that was a bad thing, until I realized I’m really good at it. Actually, what I’m good at is hyper-focusing on important projects, increasing efficiency in my tasks, and cutting out things that don’t matter.

If you look at the thesaurus, the word “lazy” is associated with a lot of pretty negative terms.

Screenshot of Lazy results from thesaurus.com

The synonyms associated with “efficiency” and “productivity” are much more positive.

Our society is big on busy-ness. Until I embraced my laziness, I usually felt guilty every single time I sat down to relax. I felt like I needed to be doing something all the time or I wasn’t contributing – to my household, my family, society, myself.

But it really is human nature to be both as efficient and lazy as possible to conserve energy. Our ancestors had to work hard to get their food, and they weren’t about to waste all the energy they consumed performing any task unless it had a clear and obvious beneficial outcome. They’d weave baskets, not because it was the latest Pinterest craze, but because they needed to use them to hold things. They didn’t go to seminars and conferences, but they did learn from their elders about plants, hunting, cooking, etc.

At the end of the day, our ancestors probably didn’t gather around the fire to invent new CrossFit moves or plan their future goals for getting more of XYZ (unless it was food or tools). They relaxed and enjoyed themselves, told stories, and connected. They deserved it. It made sense.

Animals are lazy and efficient too. They eat, have sex, find shelter, sleep, and relax. When their bellies are full, they don’t start cramming for a degree in biochemistry or build skyscrapers. They conserve their energy.

Lazefficient Bear

 

And that’s what I do. I’ve spent quite a bit of time deciding what’s actually important in my life and then crafted a life around those needs and desires. I have goals like the rest of them, but I do everything I’ve decided I must do with the highest efficiency I can attain. Then, I relax.

I’m a runner, a mother, a founder, a leader, a writer, and so many other things. I need to spend time recovering, otherwise I burn out. You’ve experienced that, no?

It is so glamorous to be productive, busy, and always working that many of us have started bragging about how much we work and how little we sleep, like it’s a badge of honor. That’s okay, if that is what your best possible life looks like and your body can handle it. But if your life is filled to the max with endless tasks, and you feel like you can never catch up, and you long for vacation just so you can rest a little, I’m here to help you.

On this blog, I will write about evaluating what you value most, determining when tasks have little or no clear benefit (and cutting them), and increasing efficiency in all the rest of the tasks that you want or need to keep.

Lazefficient is the mashing of lazy and efficient. Chose what’s most important to you, be as efficient as you can be, and enjoy rest and relaxation. Because you only get one life; relax.