[Blog post written by Elliot Harmon and cross-posted on TechSoup Blog]
One thing I always enjoy about Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp is getting to know very small organizations. A lot of people stopped by our booth and told us about the challenges their one-or-two-person nonprofits are facing. It's an important perspective, and a big part of TechSoup's user base. Working with a tiny staff and budget brings a litany of challenges, but it brings some amazing opportunities too.
The low-budget ethos is encapsulated no better than in the Seattle Free School. SFS doesn't accept donations and doesn't apply for grants. Volunteers teach free classes in rooms donated by other local organizations. In two and a half years, SFS has grown from a simple idea into an impressive institution, with classes in topics ranging from crochet to Linux installation to getting Irish citizenship.
Founder Jessica Dally came down from Seattle to give a talk called Run Free: How to Transform Your Community Without Money. (Jessica is also a Nonprofit Commons member and NetSquared Local organizer.) In a one-hour presentation, Jessica took on the daunting task of convincing a room full of people trying to start and grow nonprofits to consider a no-budget model. She started with a simple question: What do you need to start an organization? People called out various budget items (a space, computers, staff, telephones) as well as intangibles (attention, a mission, passion). Next, she asked which items from the list you can't get for free. We selected a handful of items from the list — publicity, computers, space, and a few others — and for each item we came up with, Jessica explained how SFS had gotten it for free or made do without it.
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