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Non-Profit Process: BoldLeaders

Starting a non-profit can fulfill a significant personal need and impact your community or the world. Formidable as it may be, the steady rise in non-profit incorporation is a testament to people's need to alter some negative effect in the world around them. This, in turn, often focuses much-needed human and financial capital on an untended situation. 

However, non-profits fail at rates approaching 50 percent, so not just any worthy idea is going to succeed (National Business Incubator). Rather than starting a non-profit like you would when opening a new retail shop or service, I would like to suggest an alternative path, leading to the desired shift in your community.

The alternative path is a mixture of mindful design and fortunate accidents that have played out very well for BoldLeaders, a non-profit organization I co-direct. It is ‘based’ in Hastings, Neb., Denver, and Washington, D.C. 

We have no employees, no physical office, no file cabinets, no water cooler and minimal administrative costs. What we do have, is 10 years of growing an innovative program that impacts thousands of young people and teachers in 17 countries around the world and a program income of over $3 million in the last five years.

How we found success:

1. We Started A Hobby. Several of us who were passionate about education and young people worked on a small project while keeping our day jobs. Small scale origins allow for testing, making mistakes, course correcting, and grassroots fervor.

2. We made building networks with like-minded people and groups a priority. We can trace the origin of every new program and partnership back to our first year of existence.

3. We minimized our size in order to maximize our output. We have implemented 18 large international programs since 2007 with no executive director, accountant or development person. Having no employees means everyone is a contractor who focuses almost solely on programming. This will not work for much longer given our size, BUT it got us pretty far!

4. We chose to play an infinite rather than a finite game. All our efforts and programs are intimately tied to our mission to Cause Bold Leaders and our Principles of Collaboration, Participation, Mind the Gap, Go One Step Beyond, Use Mindful Language and Tenacity. A non-profit’s success is not measured by profit but by achievement of mission. Clear view of the game we play has been a vital touchstone to guide our actions and decision-making.

Non-profits alter the conversations communities have about themselves. In turn, this brings some of the unseen into view and gives permission for dialogue and interaction that enlarges the world for everyone.
Designing your non-profit to deliver on this gradual evolution takes courage, innovation, and a willingness to be non-normal.

About the Author

Brady Rhodes
Co-Director, BoldLeaders

Brady has spent 25 years in conversation & action about education, community engagement and leadership and has implemented unique learning environments for people around the world. 


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