Why Don’t I Have a Non-Profit?

I’m an entrepreneurial young person in the arts in New York City. I produce events large and small, have experience and expertise in the management of a non-profit, particularly in grantwriting, and all the other skills necessary to create and lead that kind of an organization.

I have a core group of collaborators that could form a board and use such an organization as a back-end for all sorts of projects. In the last couple of generations, the first thing the young, smart, entrepreneurial artist in New York City did was create a non-profit to house all their activity, centralize grant funding, and produce projects.

So why don’t I do it? Why am I not really tempted at all to create that kind of organization? Well, honestly I am a little bit, and I keep thinking about whether I still don’t want to. But so far, I still don’t want to.

The idea with this kind of non-profit would be to raise more grant money, give people tax deductions, streamline some accounting functions, and create the cachet that comes from having your own organization all to yourself.

But nowadays there isn’t any grant money to be had, not really. And people don’t care that much about tax deductions since they all take the standard deduction anyway. Doing good accounting is just mint.com and a google doc away (and besides, I don’t even have a separate bank account for my projects). And I don’t think you get that much cachet from creating a group for no reason anymore. Everything’s so much more transparent these days. If you’re a small organization you get your cache from your leader/principal/CEO/whatever, not the other way around. On top of that running a non-profit is a whole bunch more paperwork. I think it’s much better to just do – as yourself – the work you’d have your non-profit do. Less paperwork, and the same cachet.

So while I do work for one non-profit and am on the board of another, I don’t have one of my own.

What does my dream company look like?

I think about this a lot. I’ve always put together teams of creative people. It’s always been part of who I am to help people do their most amazing work and to try to take care of them. What would a company be like that helped me do that? I’m not certain it would be a non-profit, or even an L3C.

I would want it to support brilliant, talented creative people with a centralized back-end for administrative stuff. But with better and better productivity technology there’s less and less need for a centralized back-end at all.

I like to work on very different projects, like an opera, a play, a poem, a podcast, a conference, and a magazine. And the thing that ties all those projects together is me. For all the wonderful, mad, creative stuff that my friends and I make, the thing that ties it all together is who we are as people.

The group would be the company

The best way to get to know our work is to get to know us. and if you know one of us you’ll pretty soon find out about the rest through these overlapping circles and networks. A lot of the work that used to be done by professional organizations now gets done by friendships, recommendations, and word of mouth – and that includes building the connections that are what passes for job security among itinerant creative workers.

As social media and other communications technology advances, the transparency of these networks will increase. It will be even more obvious than it already is that if you work with me you can probably work with Victoria, Zach, Sara, Casey, Rose, Ian, Sean, Steven, Mike C., Mike F., Jason, Alan, Rachel F., Rachel G., Lainie, Elspeth, George, and a ton of other people I adore.

But before that happens, and it becomes irrelevant, maybe there’s room to build something valuable. Maybe there’s a reason to try to build something we can all share, that enhances the work we do across 97 media, that helps us make more and better art, that builds a community around all this amazing stuff, and that can make everyone a little bit more secure in their risky artistic lives.

I’m glad I don’t have a non-profit. But if I were going to build a company, I’d build one to do that.

Who’s in?

2 Responses

  1. Sara says:

    Do I even need to raise my hand?

  2. Kevin says:

    You could anyway if you felt like it… :-)

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