Pamela’s Words of Wisdom: Thoughts on Starting A Non-Profit

Here are some questions I was recently asked regarding starting a nonprofit. I didn’t address the fact that this economy also presents a very, very challenging landscape in which to start a nonprofit and to attain solid funding. However, anyone with true passion will find a way to bootstrap their vision, at any time. Anything is possible!


What are the right and wrong reasons to start a non-profit?

Starting a nonprofit must come from the head and the heart. It’s a true balance.  Most people think you need to have strong passion and loyalty to a cause, and you do. But one must also have a strong desire for effective business planning and operations in order to ensure you deliver your product, in this case service to the community, effectively.   At the same time, you can’t be ‘all business’ but we are compassionately serving others in very dire circumstances; in the case of UniversalGiving (, we are helping people who live on $800 annually, which is 70% of the world.

This balanced viewpoint of head and heart is often more identified along the lines of social entrepreneurship. It’s also often tied into revenue (see answer to the other questions below.)

The wrong reason to start a nonprofit is because you think it’s a ‘cush’ job or comes with less demands. Your responsibility increases. Fundraising is tough.  And, if you fail to deliver, you are dealing with people’s lives, and the fact that they might not receive truly dire services.  Your job can become one of helping others through life and death.  It’s not just that your product line failed; here, a lifeline could have failed.

How do you determine your salary?

The board determines the CEO’s salary.We take into account whether the position is fulltime or part-time; qualifications (past entrepreneurial experience); results; fundraising success; and business qualifications.  We also look at comparative compensation across similar size nonprofits, in similar locales with cost of living.

Are there other ways to raise money for your non-profit besides grant writing and fundraising?

Absolutely. In fact, I believe nonprofits should be able to monetize some part of their service, in order to demonstrate market interest and increase and diversify your funding.  For example, UniversalGiving ( allows people to give and volunteer with the top-performing projects across the world. We vet all organizations and projects with a 12-stage Quality Model.  100% of your donation goes to the nonprofit. So this service is free to the public, because we want people to give with trust and transparency, and to get as much funds to deserving people as possible.

So how do we do this?  We also have a customized service, UniversalGiving Corporate, which helps companies launch their CSR programs. We help them lead and manage their international giving and volunteer programs. We set up programs in the cities where their employees live and work; vet nonprofits; market out to their employees to increase giving and volunteer results. All of this helps companies operate on the global level, increase their brand, increase employee and client loyalty.  UniversalGiving is paid to perform these services, which also meet our mission.

Therefore I highly recommend nonprofits provide both services, which support their mission and their longterm financial viability.

Do you need to have an attorney set up your NP or can you do it yourself?

You can set up the 501(c)3 structure yourself.  You can find a book which will help you walk through the process. It’s not difficult, but does take some time.  I did do it myself for UniversalGiving. However, you can pay an attorney to do it for about $3,000-$5,000; some attorneys who are friends will do it for you for free. It’s not a bad idea to get this probono attorney support early on. As a nonprofit professional, you should consider probono services as a constant part of the mix and your resources.

NGO Spotlight: Develop Africa Small Business

In many parts of Africa people are living on around a dollar a day. Living at this type of poverty level makes it difficult to survive.  For a small business to stay afloat, they often need some sort of financial aid. However, for people living in Africa it can be extremely difficult to secure a loan because they often lack collateral.

Microfinance can help these individuals who cannot secure a loan. Microfinance is providing loans to impoverished and disadvantaged individuals. A typical microfinance loan is less than 200 dollars. These loans are often used to purchase supplies or ingredients needed to make a finished product to sell to the customer. It turns out that millions of people worldwide are positively affected by microfinance.

Develop Africa is giving out interest free loans with the help of your donation. They call these loans booster shots because they will help a small business expand. In addition, the NGO will provide business training to these individuals. Develop Africa’s goal is to make individuals self-sufficient. They aim to specifically help talented youth and women entrepreneurs.

Develop Africa is in turn helping to not only alleviate poverty but to help stop the poverty cycle. This program empowers entrepreneurs to provide for themselves in the best way they see fit. If you want to give back, visit UniversalGiving!

E-Waste Scavenging

By Caity Varian

The global demand for electronic products continues to grow, while the lifespan of many of these products becomes shorter.  As a result, the amount of electronic waste being generated worldwide is vast and growing.  Electronic waste, often referred to as “e-waste,” is a type of waste consisting of any broken or unwanted electronic devices.

Estimates say, 20-50 million tons of e-waste are generated annually in the E waste 3.jpgworld.  E-waste contains numerous toxic chemicals and materials, including heavy metals, chlorinated compounds, phthalates, and flame retardants.  The recycling and disposal of electronics poses a substantial threat to the environment and to human health, imposing serious health risks onto those who live, work and play in locations where e-waste is dumped and informal recycling activities occur.

E-waste is transported internationally to developing countries where labor costs are low and few environmental regulations exist.  Ghana’s e-waste dump at Agbogbloshie is reported to be the biggest in Sub-Saharan Africa and one of the largest in the world, attracting the attention of international environmental groups, NGOs, researchers and journalists.  Ghana has an unregulated import regime for electronic waste, meaning e-waste can enter the country without detection.

Ghana’s pursuit of socio-economic growth has necessitated joining the information communication technology revolution, thus increasing the demand for electronic equipment, making e-waste recycling a survival industry.  The livelihood of many people living in Ghana depends on the income and resources generated from informal e-waste recycling activities.

In Ghana, e-waste is recycled in a crude way, primarily involving manual disassembly and open burning to isolate copper from plastics.  Children and young men using primitive tools perform the majority of the work without any sort of protective equipment or gear.  Children are especially vulnerable to chemical exposures associated with e-waste due to their changing physiology and rapid development.

It’s very common for children, especially young boys to work in the E waste 2.jpgAgbogbloshie scrap yards starting at age seven where they will earn approximately $2.50 per day.  Many parents discourage their kids from engaging in e-waste activities due to the severe health risks associated with such activities.  Others must have their kids work as e-waste scavengers in order to support their families.

Hazardous living conditions and poor sanitation make e-waste workers especially prone to poor health conditions.  Informal e-waste recycling can cause high rates of miscarriages, birth defects and cancer clusters among workers, as well as changes in thyroid function and cellular expression, increases in DNA damage, changes in temperament and behavior and decreased lung function.

The full social, environmental and health-related impacts of e-waste are just beginning to be fully realized and they need to be given more attention.  Increased transparency and responsibility must be demanded on the part of the producers in e-waste.

The problem must be addressed at all stages, including production, distribution, recycling and disposal.  This will require added environmental regulation and tighter controls on the transboundary movement of e-waste.  This will also require more effective regulations ensuring responsible disposal and recycling methods.

Many of our NGO partners are doing amazing work on the ground in Ghana, providing children and their families with the resources they need to live happy and healthy lives.  Organizations like Rural Communities Empowerment Center, Globe Aware and Plan International USA are working to increase access to healthcare, education, economy and create wealth in communities with very limited means.

Supporting these amazing NGOs is one way to help serve communities in Ghana that are deeply impacted by the informal disposal and recycling of e-waste.  Become a part of the solution and give a gift that will improve living conditions in Ghana.  Mentor at-risk rural child for one year.  Your donation will help to mentor a child in reading, math and science, allowing the child to gain confidence and increase their sense of self-worth.  Allow a child in rural Ghana to achieve computer literacy, granting resources and life skills to provide a better future. Send a child to school, keeping them in the classroom and out of the scrapyards.

House-Building in Cambodia: A Volunteer’s Gain Part 2

This is a continuation of the story of Michelle Yeh’s volunteer trip to Cambodia.  In the previous post, Michelle learned that building homes is no easy chore.  This chapter begins after several of her classmates started a contest to hammer in nails quickly, leaving the future home-owner to hammer back in each crooked nail.

After that incident, some part of that obliviously hopeful girl within me dimmed.  I started to question the impact that we had on the Cambodian community and wondered if our presence was more counterproductive than helpful.  I wondered how many nails the family members had to pull out because we did such a poor job hammering them in.

As the day finished and half of the houses were built, we retreated back to the hotel to ice our sore hands and prepare for our last day of building.  Waking up the next day tired from the day before, I did not think too much about what was to come and expected the day to flesh out like it did the previous.  However, after an hour’s van ride with my fellow project leaders, project supervisor and the Tabitha Foundation Cambodia local representative, we arrived not at the building site but at a large expanse of land.

Our project supervisor, without letting on what was going on, asked us to walk into the field.  As we walked single-file down the dirt path, we noticed on our left, lush green rice fields and on our right, barren dirt.  We continued walking into the rice fields until we stopped at a collection of small signs.  This was when our project supervisor told us where we were.

We were standing in the rice-fields of the families whom we helped build houses for.  Part of the funds that we raised was directed towards irrigating their rice fields.  With this knowledge, I looked down at the collection of small signs and read “Tabitha-Cambodia donated by…” and saw my name on one of the six small white signs.Sign .jpg

My immediate response was shock, which then turned into confusion and then some twisted form of happiness and content.  The rapid progression of flashing emotions then culminated in the flow of unstoppable tears.  Some part of me enjoyed seeing my name, another part hated that I did.  I remembered the three boys.  The past few days made me question my volunteer experience and whether or not what I perceived as help was actually helpful.  The fact that-despite feeling as though I did not impact much-there was still a tinge of happiness when I saw my name, made me doubt my reasons for volunteering.

Did I actually care about this community, this community that I’d only ever experienced through Wikipedia pages and online articles until a few short days ago?  Am I volunteering for my own selfish desire to feel significant?  Perhaps the only contribution I’m making is to the tokenism of volunteer work that is so often found with ‘voluntourism trips’.  Will I just be another ‘with-a-cute-orphan-from-a-third-world-country’ profile picture on somebody else’s Facebook news feed?  I started to wonder if all the volunteer work and philanthropy that I had done was just a convenient following of a systematic progression of events set forth by people before me.  Perhaps my hopefulness and belief in enacting change in a few days of house building was only misguided idealism.

I felt embarrassed that I once thought I could change the lives of those whose experiences and livelihoods were bloodstained by years of history within the span of two short days.

Naturally, the sight of a sixteen-year-old girl crying at a sign in a rice field is not one you see everyday.  Startled by my outburst, my supervisor and the Tabitha local representative took me aside.  When I apologized for my reaction, the local representative and my supervisor-rather indignantly-told me never to apologize for being emotional, especially in a situation like this.

They told me never to feel ashamed for feeling the effects of giving.  They told me that in their long experience with this school tradition, they’ve seen countless families be emotionally touched by the sight of their new homes.  However, to see a volunteer go through a similar experience was not as common.  They-to my surprise-were very glad and understanding of my emotional outburst.

This concludes part 2 of Michelle’s story.  Next week Michelle talks about what she learned about the act of giving!


NGO Spotlight: Trekking for Kids

One of UniversalGiving’s newest partners is Trekking for Kids, a nonprofit that takes an innovative approach to voluntourism.  Participants combine their passions for adventure and volunteering by hiking in some of the world’s most beautiful while also dedicating part of their time to helping orphans and vulnerable children in local communities.  Trekkers fundraise for projects in these communities that have lasting impacts on these children.

The 2015 earthquake in Nepal severely damaged the region’s infrastructure and took thousands of lives.  That year Trekkers decided to direct their fundraising towards the village of Kumari, whose school was destroyed by the disaster.  Poorer mountain towns were some of the most affected by the quake due to the difficulty of access and lack of resources.  Human traffickers have taken advantage of the aftermath to prey on vulnerable women and children who lost their schools and homes in the quakes, further exacerbating the need for aid.

Trekking for Kids hoped that reconstructing the Kumari elementary school might

Temporary school after the quake
The children of Kumari sit outside their makeshift school

protect children from the threat of trafficking by encouraging parents to keep their children in school.  The school gave more than 500 local children the opportunity to continue their education in a safe and spacious environment.  Trekkers raised $33,000 towards rebuilding the school, surpassing their original goal.  After three days of hands-on work in the Kumari village, the 16 trekkers packed up and began their adventure around the base of Mt. Everest.  After several days of hiking through the storied mountains and sleeping in local teahouses, the journey ended at the highest Buddhist monastery in the world, the Tengboche Monastery.

Trekking for Kids is conducting five treks this year, including on trip to Mt. Kilamanjaro and another to the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia.  Those looking to get involved can donate on the UniversalGiving website, or go to to sign up for the adventure of a lifetime.