Starting My First Non-Profit


Hello! Welcome to Noe Ideas. It’s so good to have you here. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you’re interested in starting your own non-profit or have recently started a non-profit and could use some help, inspiration, advice, or a shoulder to cry on. Starting a non-profit is a beautiful adventure, but there are definitely bumps along the way and it’s my mission to make that adventure just a little smoother.

If you’re starting a non-profit or have just started one, there is some reason why. If not, turn back now because the IRS paperwork is rough. But in all seriousness, when you start a non-profit you’re trying to solve a problem. What problem did you find?

My Story

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My answer takes us all the way back to 2011. If ever there’s a story about why you should follow your gut, this is the one you should read. I was fresh out of graduate school with a Masters degree in Museum Studies (free advice: don’t get a degree in Museum Studies) and had just taken a job in Oklahoma. Looking back, there were many signs I should not have taken this job. I’m a city girl and this area was not what I would describe as urban. My then boyfriend had just moved back to St. Louis after summer break for his last semester of law school. And I got the job after a mediocre recommendation from a professor who knew the director of the department (he was not listed as a reference and I was not told he was contacted until after I accepted the position). But more than all those things, I started having major anxiety about leaving. I couldn’t figure out why.

Within my first day on the job, I knew I had made a major mistake. All my coworkers were stand-offish. My boss had previously held the job and seemed to have trouble letting go of responsibilities. And the director of our department was a little… off. As it turns out, the director was later fired for substance abuse on the job.

I cried every night. And only my boyfriend really knew how bad things were.

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Painting class with a Meetup group in Oklahoma.

Bringing my childhood dog to Oklahoma with me after a trip back home seemed to help with my mood. And making friends with an alumni from my undergrad university also helped. But what seemed to make things the most bearable was a local Meetup group. Meetup.com provides a platform for local groups to post events and activities so that people actual get together in person. The events gave me something to look forward to after particularly rough days at work.

These events with Meetup helped me think about things other than work, at least for a little while. And even though my job never improved, I at least had a few moments of sanity while living in Oklahoma. The events were also focused entirely on things I was interested in doing – typically nerdy activities like learning to build a website or attending a library craft night.

Starting My Non-Profit

When I moved back to St. Louis, I knew I needed to start a group for women (and particularly those who consider themselves nerdy) to feel safe and to have an outlet from negativity in their lives. Also while in Oklahoma, I had begun exploring my own feminism and learning as much as I could on how to better advocate for women. These two ideas combined served as the basis for Super Heroines, Etc.

Group of super heroines at a comic convention.
Photo credit: Super Heroines, Etc.

We started out as a local community group with about a dozen women at a local coffee shop talking about what kinds of things we would like to do together. Slowly we grew to 50, 100, 200 members in a matter of months. Our first events were book clubs and attending community festivals together. We have since grown to include our own programs that target themes and topics relevant to our members and the community. Slowly I asked members to start hosting events and then suddenly we had a dozen event hosts. And then we started having meetings to plan events. At this point, we were not a nonprofit but we were achieving my goals of providing a safe space for women, opportunities to “geek out,” and also helping women build a personal network to rely on even when work, family, or life got tough.

Once we hit 1,000 members and had nearly 20 event hosts and 15-20 events a month, I realized we needed to become more organized. We spent months deciding how to structure the group, the benefits of becoming a nonprofit, the challenges, the drawbacks. Luckily, I had an amazing team of women to advise me – folks who eventually formed the first board. We also worked with a non-profit law clinic at a local university to help with our paperwork to the state and federal governments.

Group of super heroines presenting on geek feminism to a comic convention.
Presenting on geek feminism at a comic convention.

Fast-forward three years and here we are with 1,600+ members, over 20 event hosts, and two rather large fundraising events completed. While I’ve left out some of the ups and downs of this story, the fact remains – I had an idea, I made it come to life, and becoming a non-profit wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. That decision has made Super Heroines, Etc. stronger as an organization and allowed us to expand our programming to reach more women.

 

And as for my story. I now have a job I love, I’m getting married in a month, and will become Executive Director of Super Heroines, Etc. in July. My road to happiness was directly tied to my success with Super Heroines, Etc. Many people say non-profit work is all about helping others, but I think it’s about doing what you love while helping others. Because when others see your passion and excitement, that can only make your work better.

Don’t be afraid to make your dreams come true! Our next post will focus on questions to ask yourself before starting a non-profit so check back soon.

Author: Carolyn

Carolyn Noe is the owner of Noe Ideas as well as the Founder & Executive Director of Super Heroines, Etc. It is her personal mission to help dreamers and do-gooders turn their fantastic ideas into implementable, goal-oriented non-profits and businesses.