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The Dangers of Non-Profits


Photo 11-9-13, 11 45 01 AM Sorry for the delay in this blogpost.  October was a busy month.  At the beginning of the month we finally heard back from the IRS on our 501c3 application after almost a year and a half of waiting.  We were approved!  While this doesn't mean much to the way we operate (we have been able to function as a non-profit up to the time our application was reviewed), it is still nice to have it completed and check that off the list of things to do.

What has been keeping us busy, though, is that in October we started teaching English at a small school here in the evenings.  Because we're small and just getting things off the ground, sometimes we have to do things that bigger organizations don't (i.e. teach English to obtain visas).  Although it keeps us busy, it has been a great experience.  We are able to meet lots of people, work on our language and help fill a need in our community.

The school where we teach is run by a great local guy who is trying his hardest to provide English and life skills to students who otherwise couldn't afford it.  The classrooms are basically a concrete shell with a chalkboard and big wooden tables.  There are a couple other language schools in town that are run by foreigners that look much nicer but about 3x the price.  Which is where I've started noticing a problem.

Over the years I've had the opportunity to read some good books on foreign impact on developing countries.  If you have the time I would highly recommend at least checking out When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity.  Both are great reads.  The books point out that as foreigners in developing countries, particularly those trying to do ministry and operating as non-profits, we need to be careful of our practices.

While helping our local friend who runs the school with registration at the beginning of the month, I noticed his frustration with the other language schools in town.  Our friend is trying to run a legitimate school, pay his teachers a good local wage and offer something to students at an affordable price.  What my local friend doesn't know is that the other schools in town are operated as ministries and most of their foreign teachers work as volunteers.

I know the guys who run the other schools and they're not running their ministries to drive this guy out of business (I don't even think they know our school exists).  However, as ministries and non-profits we must be careful of our practices.  Our local friend, who has a vision and passion for helping his own people is hindered by people who are trying to do good.  Honestly, there is no way our local friend can compete with resources that come through donations and free labor.

Our goal at UCI is to empower local people both in economic development and coffee training (as well as being able to share the Gospel with them).  And seeing how other ministries in town affect local people trying to help others has definitely given us things to think about going forward.