Starting a nonprofit is hard enough. But starting a nonprofit to do international relief and development work presents a unique set of challenges. Just getting it off the ground requires generous amounts of patience, dedication, and creativity. Yet with a little luck and a lot of perseverance, HopeTogether is discovering that the benefits far outweigh the investment.
We began HopeTogether with the simple realization that not enough was being done to help the world’s neediest residents. Although a plethora of international aid agencies existed, it was clear that the demand for assistance far exceeded the ability of organizations to help the people who needed it most.
The first challenge we faced was where to begin. After all, the world is a big place and without a clear starting point, the potential for organizational diffusion was high. A quick survey of the globe indicated several hotspots with incredible needs, not the least of which was the continent of Africa. Civil war, poverty, and the AIDS pandemic have plagued Africa in recent years, creating an atmosphere of chaos and despair. By leveraging existing relationships with churches in East Africa, HopeTogether set its sights on the nation of Tanzania and we began to lay the foundation for relief and development projects utilizing existing church networks.
The next challenge was how to raise the needed resources to make HopeTogether’s work in Tanzania a reality. Two problems became immediately clear. First, we needed to raise significant resources before we could begin to fulfill our mission. Most nonprofits are expected to get their feet wet on a shoestring budget. This approach wouldn’t work for HopeTogether in Tanzania because travel alone is a costly venture, not to mention the expenses associated with the relief and development projects themselves. The second problem was that the nature of our organization prohibited nearly all of our potential donors from seeing the people we serve firsthand.
To solve the first problem, we developed an incubator relationship with the local church that was involved in our conception. The church provided some initial funding and in-kind contributions with the agreement that this arrangement would end after the first few months. Subsequently, the church pledged a modest monthly contribution and many of its members made individual donations for special projects such as a clothing drive for refugees.
To solve our second problem, we turned to technology. Since we couldn’t take potential donors to Africa, we decided to bring Africa to them with something we called “African Odysseys”. African Odysseys were multimedia presentations that we did in people’s homes using a laptop computer, a digital projector, and a portable screen. The format was informal and educational with ample opportunities for discussion. Host families invited their friends, families, and co-workers with the understanding that we would not ask for money at the event. Our goal was simply to build relationships with potential donors and get them on board with our organization. These events were successful in helping us get the word out about HopeTogether and in helping us identify a potential donor base.
At the heart of HopeTogether is our belief that with God’s help, ordinary people can work together to do extraordinary things. Currently, we are faced with many of the same challenges other nonprofits face, i.e. expanding our donor base, enhancing our capacity, and effectively mobilizing our volunteer roster. We look forward to meeting these challenges in the same way we have met our other challenges – by joining hands with our donors and with the people we serve.