Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Beginning a Land-Based Non-Profit

Any group of people attempting to build support around a piece of land
has a distinct advantage because our land-base is what allows us to
live. People are excited about local community, local food, local
growers, local involvement in food production, good nutrition,
connecting with nature, etc.. All of these interests are connecting to
create stronger and healthier local communities.

If you are someone who is trying to convert or maintain some of your
community's land-base into a non-profit organization for means of
preservation, community-involvement, education, green space, etc., this
article is meant to give you suggestions along the way.

  1. Define your mission clearly, with involvement from all necessary parties, but with no more than is necessary.
    • No more than necessary hints to the fact that agreeing
      on a mission can be exciting, but also taxing if too many people are
      deciding. A better method is to create 2 or 3 different versions and
      bring those to a larger group for discussion and decision-making.
    • Make sure you mission statement resonates with a
      disinterested 3rd party. Can they clearly state back to you your
      mission without explanation from you?
    • Take
      time and look at the mission statement again in a few weeks? Can you
      live with it the next 10 years... 20 years... 50 years?
    • Will the mission statement being able to grow in meaning with the organization?
  2. Build support among the community.
    • This
      is obvious, but sometimes
      groups are missed because not all interested parties are identified.
      Think of every group that may be interested in what you are doing:
      • Local
        growers, local garden groups, local churches, local governments, local
        schools, national organizations, hospitals, retirement homes, parenting
        groups, politicians, historians, scout groups, neighbors, park
        districts, counties, state departments, business neighbors, UAW halls,
    • Building support most often means listening.
      Set forums for interested parties to simply share their thoughts. Make
      sure they know their input is valued and recognized in some way.
    • After listening, communicate as often as you must to continue to build support.
  3. Build a strong board.
    • Experience,
      diversity, and desire will all determine how successful and helpful
      your board is. Think carefully about including the likes of: members
      with board experience, a teacher, an historian, an accountant, a
      marketing person, a visionary, a naturalist, someone in agricultural,
      business leaders, etc.
      • You may not find all of these, but strive for a good mix of experience, diversity, and desire.
    • A
      strong board understands their role. Take time to define the board's
      role in the beginning so there is no confusion later. This helps not
      only the board, but also staff members.
  4. Take your time.
    • I have seen first hand that rushing in the beginning will adversely affects what comes 4-5 years down the road.
    • Take your time! The completion of initial planning may take 4 or 5 years.
  5. Set a time line of events that is realistic, yet provides for surprises.
    • Be proactive in determining what you want and when.
    • Actively
      seek the input of others who have walked a similar path. This will
      increase your chances of time estimates being accurate.
  6. Hire the best staff.
    • The best means, the best. If you need to wait for those people, then do so.
    • Do not hire the wrong people. Wait if you need to!
  7. Passion.
    • Passion is necessary at all steps along the way, as is practicality and
    • Though you may be mindful of everything, mistakes will
      still be made and can be exciting if you learn from them. Passion is accepting and growing with mistakes.
  8. Remember your goals.
    • What are you working for? Crystallizing your goals at all steps will help keep you focused and energized.
  9. Stay connected to the land you are working with.
    • Stop and breath; if you are not getting out and connecting, you will miss some of the most important information.
  10. Succeed!
    • Succeed because you must.

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