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Less Money, Mo’ Problems

The Great Exchange's Mascot, Hoggle

I thought I'd entice you to read this by posting a picture of the most lovable money-trap in the world wearing his (my) favorite hat.

I went into this assuming that writing The Great Exchange’s budget would be my least favorite part. While I can wear many hats (similar to my dog), I’m not a natural accountant. It’s also the part I’m most afraid of, because at some point in the future we will be accepting donations and grants,   and I want to be 100% responsible and open about where every last penny goes. I plan on providing more transparent information than most nonprofits I’ve seen; and while this could be a mistake from a competitive standpoint, I’m hoping it will become one of the core values that will make The Great Exchange stand out. So I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to start loving Excel spreadsheets and yearly/monthly forecasts.

In the spirit of full disclosure, The Great Exchange is not an official 501(c)(3) yet, meaning it doesn’t have nonprofit status and donations aren’t tax-deductible. The paperwork is being filed as I–well, not as I write this, because I’m writing this–but it’s being filed. It’s going to take a little while, and in the meantime I’m looking into fiscal sponsorship from an established nonprofit, which would allow me to use some of their infrastructure, including their 501(c)(3) status. More on this later.

The point is, I am not accepting donations yet (hence, the reason our donations page is so bare bones), which means The Great Exchange’s budget is currently fearsomely intertwined with my own personal budget. And that’s where I made my first mistake! Cue the confetti! See, it turns out that even without throwing a single event or even holding my first group meeting, there are unforeseen start-up costs. There’s domain registration; purchasing Google Apps so I can perform outreach from a Great Exchange email account; newsletter software; web site upgrades that will make The Great Exchange more crawlable (ie–more views); and much more. Additionally, while I’m bootstrapping as much as possible, I refuse to scrimp on decent graphic design and the like. My contest on 99 Designs cost me $300, but if it will result in helping The Great Exchange present an attractive face to the community, then it’s money well spent.

What puts me over the edge, financially? Well, remember that part where I said The Great Exchange’s budget is feeding off my own? Earlier this year when I went to the animal shelter looking for a companion, I couldn’t resist adopting a special-needs dog named Hoggle. His two back legs are locked in an unnatural and painful position, and he needs surgery on both legs to be fully functioning, pain-free, and happy. This isn’t cheap, despite a lovely show of support from people who have decided to donate on the Austin Pets Alive web site.

Suffice to say, money is even tighter than I thought it would be. Everything is going to be absolutely fine, of course. My age is in my corner with this one; I’m young enough so that I don’t have a mortgage, children, or other major financial responsibilities. I’m resilient enough so that I don’t mind killing a few roaches in my apartment or smelling nauseating fried food every time I walk out my door (we live across from a Wendy’s). I’m also perfectly happy eating meals that consist of various iterations of rice and eggs, and it helps a lot to have a boyfriend whose greatest pleasure in life is visiting the grocery store and buying fancy produce for the both of us. So, all is well in my world.

But it does prompt me to give this advice: 

If you’re thinking of starting a nonprofit or business as a means of remedying your unemployment, and you’re not one of the lucky ones who has some seed capital or a couple Angel Investors, don’t do it. Not only will you be performing untold hours of work for free–maybe for years–but you will also be sinking your own money into a plethora of costs, only half of which you anticipated. If there’s anybody in your life who relies on you financially, you may end up putting too much pressure on yourself to provide for them while staying afloat, and you won’t be able to make your clearest decisions regarding your start-up. I understand the entrepreneurial drive better than anybody, but from a logistical standpoint, most people would be much better off just finding a job.

Well, that’s enough of that. Thanks for reading a lot of words about finances, and I’ll keep everybody posted on the results of my “will they or won’t they?” relationship with Quickbooks! I know; the tension is killing me too!


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