The Next Step – Looking for Non Profits

Now that you have defined what your mission, the next step is to find volunteer opportunities. There are two parts to this process: identifying organizations that match your mission, and finding the right opportunities that suit your needs. Today I will address the first part.

There is no point supporting non profits in Hong Kong, they are unscrupulous and will take your money and run.’ How many times have you heard this from acquaintances, friends or family? Well I’ve heard it countless times since I came back. And yes while there are unscrupulous people out there who capitalize on human misery to earn a quick buck, there are many non profits in Hong Kong who genuinely do good worthwhile work.

When I look at organizations that I want to volunteer at, I research and study them in the same way I look at a company before applying for a job. I will ask myself the following questions:

How do their mission and goals fit with mine?

Are their goals clearly defined? How or what are they doing to achieve their mission? For example, if a non profit’s mission is to bring performing arts to young people, they may provide free workshops in drama, music etc. and provide field trips to cultural performances.

How do they measure their goals? Like in the for profit world a non profit should have a series of goals set for each project or year. The only differences are the actual goals themselves. Instead of ‘profit’ or ‘# of units sold’ non profit goals will be more along the lines of ‘fundraising target’, ‘recruit & train 10 volunteers a month’. To go back to my previous example, their goals will be along the lines of ‘conduct 10 workshops for up to 200 young people aged 15 thru 23’, ‘organise 20 field trips’, or ‘secure funding for another 5 programmes next year’.

The financial health of a non profit is also very important. You don’t want to work for a company that’s badly managed and you stand loosing your job because they go bankrupt, the same applies to a non profit that you volunteer at. Look at who are at the top management of the non profit: are they good financial managers? If their annual report is not readily available, ask to see it. Consider the following:

Do they have a healthy balance sheet? The success of financial management is best reflected from the non-profit’s balance sheet. It must include surplus funds for any contingency expenses, emergency based projects, future debt retirement requirements, and any fixed future expenses such as purchasing new equipment for the office. There must be sufficient working capital to ensure smooth running of the day to day activities. Finally, the balance funds must be invested efficiently in safe and high-return assets.

Do they have multiple funding sources? A good financial manager of a non-profit will ensure that the organization receives funds from different sources. It may include both private and public grants, individual donations, and fund generation through various programs and events. Heavy reliance on a single source of funds can be risky in the long run. It can destabilize the organization at any point of time if the single donor is unable to commit funds due to any reason.

Are individual programmes well planned? A key operational part of financial management is to ensure that each project or program supported by the non-profit has a sound and viable financial budget that will save any unnecessary drain on the valuable financial resources of the non-profit. Effective budgeting will account for various expenses and overheads associated with a particular program or project. It will ensure that there is no wastage of valuable resources, and overheads are kept under strict check.

Remember for each and every one of us, our comfort levels and priorities are different. I sometimes volunteer for organizations whose management may not be as strong as I would like, but are involved in causes that I am passionate about. But then I see that as an opportunity, organizational skills are what I can bring to the table and with that I will have created my volunteer opportunity.

You might like to read: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children by John Wood. A former Microsoft executive, the book chronicles his struggle to find a meaningful outlet for his managerial talents and entrepreneurial zeal. For every high-achiever who has ever wondered what life might be like giving back, Wood offers a vivid, emotional, and absorbing tale of how to take the lessons learned at a hard-charging company like Microsoft and apply them to one of the world’s most pressing problems: the lack of basic literacy.

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