Perla Ni, Ceo and Founder of Great Nonprofits
1. Why did you start Great Nonprofits?
When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was the publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and we wanted to write a story about how nonprofits were helping the victims. Even though we had access to far more information than the ordinary donor or volunteer, we found it difficult to find out exactly which nonprofits were doing a good job of helping those in need.
We only started to get a clearer understanding of which nonprofits were actually rising to the challenge when our former managing editor, David Weir, flew out to Biloxi, Miss., and walked up and down the streets, asking people which nonprofits had been out there helping them. The locals told him about several excellent small local nonprofits that provided supplies and help. One guy told him how he had broken his leg and had been living in his car until volunteers from a local nonprofit came and found him and took him to the doctor. The local nonprofit in that case was unknown to the larger world and received little public attention or funding. (David's article ended up being published in Salon.)
In general, there isn't a lot of media coverage for local nonprofits, and when there is, it's usually to uncover a scandal rather than to highlight nonprofits that are doing excellent work.
I've gotten to know a lot of nonprofits and most of them are honest and hardworking. And some of them do darned great work. I've known nonprofits personally as a client of their services. My family had $100 when we immigrated and countless nonprofits helped us. If you look at photos of me when I was a kid, practically everything I wore came second hand from nonprofits. My cavities got filled for free at a nonprofit community dental clinic.
So I know how much the help of a nonprofit can mean.
It struck me, as I struggled professionally to find great nonprofits for our magazine to write about, that there needed to be an online "Zagat," if you will, for nonprofits that would collect stories and reviews of people -- people like me, the victims of Katrina, and hundreds of thousands of others -- who have seen the impact of nonprofits up close, and can speak personally and firsthand about it. (An article by Bill Meehan had proposed such an idea a year ago.)
So many donors and volunteers want to know if their giving is going to make a difference. Come help others discover what a difference their involvement in a nonprofit can make.
2. What makes Great Nonprofits different from other sites that offer ways for people to connect with nonprofits to volunteer or give money?
We provide real and authentic reviews from people who have directly seen the impact of the nonprofit you are considering to give to. It's the first time a site has tried to do reviews of nonprofits from the bottom up. That is, instead of a top down approach where some expert evaluates the nonprofit, we enable people who are on the street level to say what they've seen as an impact of the nonprofit. It's the Zagat's guide approach rather than the NYTimes food critic approach.
3. How do balance running a start up with being a mom?
That's a great question! I have great childcare - reliable nannies, a husband on a flexible work schedule and my parents who moved to be nearby to help with my kids. My office is in a separate building right next to my house so it's easy for me to check in on the kids if I need to. I also am able to work flexibly because I can do emails from my iphone. So when I have to wake up at 1am and 5am to feed the newborn, I also read my emails and respond to a couple of them. I also get a solid stretch of work time in the evenings after I put the kids to bed. I am a terrible cook and so I don't attempt to do much in the kitchen other than make simple things like oatmeal for my kids. We eat at my parents house a lot or order in. I'm very lucky to be able to structure my work around my lifestyle. I really am impressed by other moms who manage to do it with a lot less.
4. What would you most like people to know about your site?
We don't just want to just be a successful website - what's more important is that we are showing one way for smaller nonprofits - and that is the majority of nonprofits out there - which have a hard time getting any visibility, to raise their profile, gain volunteers and donors. Local and small nonprofits have limited marketing dollars and resources and they aren't typically some new sexy micro finance operation in an exotic locale. Especially around this time of year when all of us are getting piles of direct mail from national and international nonprofits, have you received mail from your local homeless shelter? Or after school program? Or elderly center? Probably not because they can't afford marketing like the larger nonprofits can. So our site tries to help these local nonprofits by enabling them to harness what they all have - goodwill. They've got people who have volunteered for them, people who have benefited from their programs, and other local supporters. Using our website, they can - for free - turn all that goodwill into stories of impact. Through these reviews, they can raise their visibility and build their reputation and credibility.
Perla's One Post Challenge at Tactical Philanthropy
Getting Attention Blog, Nancy Schwartz