So, You Want to Start a Nonprofit? Part 3

Advice from five organization leaders on getting started, setting goals and what they’d do differently a second time around

Nonprofit organizations are the culmination of passion and practicality. While some may choose to join an organization or volunteer to do whatever they can, others want to forge their own way and found a new nonprofit for their chosen cause.

But what are the challenges of starting one? And does the world need another organization fighting [insert crisis here]?

In this series of articles, you’ll hear from people who either joined an organization or founded a new one. Each offers a behind-the-scenes perspective on what they’ve learned, what keeps them going and their hopes for a new generation of advocates.

These nonprofit leaders are answering Christ’s call to care for the least of these—and they’ll explain how others can, too.

It’s easy to go through life without considering the amount of resources one is using. Such was the case for the Sleeth family—until a few years ago when they discovered the toll their energy use was having on the Earth. Now they promote the importance of caring for God’s creation through their organization, Blessed Earth. Here, Nancy Sleeth talks about being a family and an organization, regaining balance when your work is your life and overcoming the taboo subject of Christians caring for the environment.

Blessed Earth is a family affair—you founded it with your husband, and your children are also involved. How does collaborating with your family affect your work as an organization?

It really helps for the whole family to be on-board and to be on the same page. For us, it was Matthew 7 which starts out, “Judge not lest you be judged”—when you judge other people, you too will be judged. Don’t worry about the speck in your neighbor’s eye—worry about the two-by-four in your own. So our family took that really seriously and we said, “How much are we part of this problem?” We took an environmental footprint and we found out we were average for America, which in our income bracket at that time, living a doctor’s lifestyle, was really doing good. But compared to the rest of the world, we were using probably six times as many of the resources as many parts of the rest of the world. We knew we had to make some changes. So one by one—first my husband, then my son and then myself and then my daughter—[we] all became followers of Jesus. Those changes just became part of how we lived out our faith. So I would say having that shared passion is extremely critical for us.

What would you tell someone who joins a family-run organization, or starts one with their family?

I think the main advice I have is that you need to set boundaries. Your first role is as a husband and a wife, or as the parents, or as the son or as daughter, and that work has to come to an end at certain times. There has to be some kind of rhythm to your life. For us, the most important change we made is that we made sure we are really honoring the Sabbath—that that was the day when everything came to a stop. We close the computer on Saturday night and it becomes a day when time truly does stop. We couldn’t survive as a family without that.

The topic of caring for the environment is still somewhat taboo for some people. What unique pressures do you face as a leader of a creation care organization?

The biggest pressure is unlinking creation care from politics. What our challenge is [is] to help people not see this as a liberal cause or a conservative issue, but as a scriptural issue. [And to help people] understand we all drink the same water, we all breathe the same air—the acid rain falls on the just and the unjust.

And this is something God has called us to do in Genesis 2:15. It’s one of the first commandments He gave to humanity—to tend and protect the Garden. If you read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, it’s filled with passages that tell us God is revealing Himself through nature, God is calling us to care for nature, God is asking us to be stewards of His creation. It’s not a choice we have, it’s a commandment.

How do you stay on course to work toward your goals?

What we found is that any time we let someone steer us away from the core of what our mission is or who we are as individuals, then things did not go very well. My advice is to be true to who you are. And check in frequently with yourself, with God, with other people you trust [to make sure] you’re staying true to who you are [and] what your gifts are.

Describe a moment when you felt like Blessed Earth was truly making an impact in the world.

Organizationally I would say one of the highlights was last spring. We were releasing the new curricula and it grew into a simulcast that we broadcast from Northland [Church] in Orlando. We thought it was just going to be a small event, but God had other plans—it ended up having 2,200 groups from around the world with groups in all 50 states and 45 different countries participating. So when we went up onstage, knowing all those different people around the world were sharing this passion about caring for God’s creation at the same moment really was a highlight for me.

What advice would you give people who want to start their own nonprofit?

First and foremost, I would say to do what God is calling you to do, even if it makes no sense—especially if it makes no sense.

The second thing is that [you] need to honor God’s timing. You might have this great passion, and you’re feeling really frustrated because God’s not opening the door and nothing is working out. Be patient because God’s probably preparing new ways that you just can’t understand and the timing isn’t ready.

The third advice I would give is to invest in relationships. We have found over and over again, if we only invest in those relationships that the best things happen for our organization and for us as a couple and as individuals.

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