Friday, August 17, 2012

How to Set Up a Non-Profit Website (So That You Don't Make a Profit)

Post and screen shots by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

I've heard all sorts of great things about the Venture North bike shop, but I hadn't made my way over there yet.  Admittedly, part of my reluctance is because of their non-profit status.  I just want an actual bike shop over north, not something tied to the next round of government or foundation assistance (their website does state that they're "self-supporting" though).  So I've grumbled about yet another non-profit and used that as an excuse to go elsewhere.

Now my bike is in need of a tuneup and I thought I'd pick up some LED lighting for when I'm biking at night.  I thought it would be time to just get over some of my hangups and patronize Venture North while they're here.  So I went to their website to see what kinds of products and services they sell.  That's when I saw...

...nothing.  Oh, it's a great website, no doubt about it.   There's not one, but TWO spots on the page where you can click to donate money to them.  There's all sorts of great stuff about youth empowerment.  Moving your keyboard arrows makes the bike on the screen move along.  Pretty nifty.  They ask me to volunteer.

But what I don't see anywhere on the page, and I've looked and looked, is an indication of what products they sell or what services the average person can expect and how much those things cost.  But I can definitely tell that Venture North is a non-profit that empowers youth and I should show my support in the form of a donation.

So instead, I went to the Behind Bars website.  Behind Bars is a hole-in-the-wall bike shop just across the river in northeast Minneapolis.  They've done a few bike tuneup sessions at the West Broadway Farmers Market, so I could still draw a connection to the northside if I spent my money there.  Sure enough, the first thing I see on their site is:

"Products" and "Services" right on the homepage.  While the products tab doesn't specifically say they sell the kinds of front and rear lighting I was looking for, the presence of some rather high-end bikes and other items made it pretty self-evident that they'd stock more standard stuff too.  They got $55 of my money in exchange for a headlight and rear reflector.  Moreover, their services tab clearly lays out the different kinds of tuneups offered and how much those cost.  Since I bought my bike about two years ago on Craigslist and it hasn't been tuned up since before that purchase, I think I'll go with the $85 one.

So that's $140 I would have spent over at Venture North...if I knew whether I could even spend money there or if I'm just supposed to donate to a non-profit.

Venture North, it seems, is falling into the non-profit trap of running their shop like, well, a non-profit.  That dynamic is exactly why I was disappointed to see people chase after all this bike/walk grant money a few years back.  If they continue operating this way then not enough people will get into the habit of patronizing the establishment, and when the grant money goes away then so will the bike shop.

It doesn't have to be this way.  Look at Cookie Cart's website:

Cookie Cart has been a 501(c)3 non-profit for decades.  But one of the first website tabs you can click on is "order cookies."  It's clear from the instant their site loads that this is a place where they want to sell you cookies.  Sure, they do all sorts of other great stuff too.  But if a visitor to the page is not in an altruistic mood, and cares only about getting a tasty snack for their business meeting, they do that without being bogged down with other distractions.

Oh, and if you want to donate to their organization because you're such a pure soul, you can do that too.


  1. A friend of mine has a term for this sort of thing: "Left of Profit".

  2. Check it out. Cookie Cart gets bulletproof glass.


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