Nonprofit Development and Leadership: An Entrepreneur’s Dream for a Family Business
As an adjunct professor of Concordia University, Nebraska’s Nonprofit Organization Development course and the head of a nonprofit, I know the pressures of managing two full-time commitments can be overwhelming.
In 2009, I formed the nonprofit Link Autism Leadership on behalf of my autistic son, James. With the help of the pro bono and civic-minded law clinic at my alma mater, the idea was to “link” professionals and parents impacted by autism to online courses, workshops and consulting services that would better prepare people to cope with the diagnosis. The aim was to provide helpful strategies for schools to manage academics, social realities and behaviors.
I was deeply affected when James was first diagnosed. Starting the nonprofit enabled me to process some of my own grief into something that would benefit my son and others impacted by the diagnosis. On average, 1 out of every 45 children are diagnosed with autism; I knew my work was timely and needed.
Of course, challenges come with forming any nonprofit. It was difficult working at a regular job to support my son while also getting the nonprofit up and going. Parenting an individual with autism is work that is never finished, and even now that my son is an adult, the financial struggles have not subsided. Balancing time also became a challenge: running a nonprofit, working with an accountant to make sure everything was following a protocol and then making sure the paperwork and documentation were kept current and organized.
The final challenge is in doing the actual work of the nonprofit.
My first task after starting the nonprofit was developing an online, accredited program: Certificate in Effective Strategies for the Autistic Student. I envisioned developing our own curriculum that would offer certificates and courses to busy, working teachers and education professionals seeking to help students affected by autism. Since starting Link Austism, we have presented at over a dozen conferences, written a book together and have now been asked to write articles for Autism Parenting Magazine.
The daily work of running a nonprofit is spent in two main areas—raising money and marketing. We are a very small operation, with our own online store where participants can purchase courses and materials directly through the website. Our content is all original, and our courses and consulting services are beneficial because participants have the opportunity to learn from an individual with autism. My son co-teaches courses, and audiences from around the world have benefitted from his wisdom and commentary. I am inspired by his contribution because I was often told that he’d either end up living in a group home, or with me for his entire life. This is not true: my son is one of only 17 percent of the overall autism population who lives on his own with his two therapy dogs, Trapper and Chloe.
Entrepreneurialism is not for everyone.
There is a business component that no one ever taught me. Not even my doctoral program in Leadership Studies focused on the business part of running a nonprofit. I learned some parts as a Director of Human Resources for a public school district, but I mostly learned through trial and error. Investing in entrepreneurial-driven coursework would be helpful to learn about budgets, financial considerations, marketing and the day-to-day operations. As far as leadership, that’s what running a nonprofit is all about.
Consider how your nonprofit will solve an unresolved problem.
- Clearly see the problem.
- Envision solutions.
- Be willing to write grants or seek funding and go to the wall to resolve this issue via your nonprofit. You will be likely investing a lot of time and energy without assurance. Be assured anyway. Sometimes God gives an individual the opportunity to see and the drive to carry out the vision.
- Rely on your own discernment. Pray.
- Build a network of individuals who will provide support. There is an absence of support for other people in our society. It is easy to listen to naysayers and try to convince opposing viewpoints. Do not spend valuable time on convincing individuals who will never see your vision. Just go do it.
Link Autism Leadership is founded on the principles of Servant Leadership. Leaders should be a “servant” first, according to Greenleaf (1970). This concept is based on the notion that we should be Christ-like in our servanthood and that our faith should wear shoe leather. This notion plays out throughout Concordia University, Nebraska’s Nonprofit Organization Development course, part of our MBA. Learn more about our variety of MBA programs today.
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- Greenleaf, R. K. (2008), "The servant as leader," Indianapolis, IN: Robert K. Greenleaf Center.