Run Your Non-Profit Like a Start-Up

A three-part series showing alternative paths to the traditional model of making a boatload of money at all costs and then giving it away.

Contributed to EO by Brandon Hatton, an EO Accelerator participant in Miami who founded Conscious Wealth to provide wealth management services that help people live with purpose and create impact. Brandon is on a quest to build a conscious wealth movement at scale, so he created Conscious Wealth Living to provide actionable tools for people to heal their relationship with money, facilitate healthy intergenerational dialogues about money, and overall help individuals and families find confidence in having enough money.

I wrote the book Conscious Wealth because I realized how hard it is for people to answer the question, “How much is enough?” As an advisor and family facilitator, I’ve had thousands of conversations about money, and they all revolve around that one question. Since joining EO, I’ve heard from entrepreneurs time and time again that they can’t stop working because it is in their blood. They’re not going after the next big exit, the next bell ringing or unicorn because they need the money; they feel a deep-seated need to keep working.

In this series, I’ll share the stories of three entrepreneurs who have quenched their entrepreneurial fire while doing some real good in the world. You’ll hear how they have found alignment in their work, life and society. And, while they still ask themselves the question, How much is enough?, it’s no longer in regard to money, but rather how much positive impact is enough for one lifetime.

Case study of Bruce Keenan: Not-an-Orphanage in Nepal

“I had no idea what I was doing when I started, but I just had to start somewhere,” was something I heard Bruce Keenan repeat as we trekked the Himalayas route to Everest Base Camp. Between steps, he recounted the tale of the first time he took this path in 1999. He was disturbed when served tea by a 7-year-old, whom his guide explained was orphaned at 5. The owner of the tea house had sent her to school for only two years before she started working. Wanting to help, Bruce asked if he paid her salary, would they let her go to school? However, the guide explained that while Bruce could pay her salary, there was no guarantee she would be sent to school.

He returned home with the first thing an entrepreneur needs to make a change: a real problem without a solution. At the time, he was running a software company in growth mode, but ‘knew he had to do something.’ “Guilt?” I asked. “No, Brandon, I just looked at my life and saw how much I had, and knew it was the right thing to do.”

Without a long-term plan, he and his wife Susan Keenan started an NGO, taking two kids from state-run orphanages and sending them to a private school. Now, more than 20 years later, here I was trekking the Himalayas with Bruce, his committed donors and four of the children that are offspring of that original NGO – Himalayan Children’s Charities (HCC).

Early on, Susan differentiated their offering from other orphanages and schools by stating the mission of HCC was to train leaders to be leaders. Take a moment and consider this – here are two Americans asking children who were abandoned by their families, relegated to inferior roles by the country’s informal caste system, to be leaders. And not just asking but treating them as such.

Every venture needs an exceptional operator and the Keenans found that in Dinesh and Hira — the house mother and father of Khushi Ghar. What literally translates to “Happy Home,” Khushi Ghar is a home rented by HCC to house highly motivated students who would otherwise be living in orphanages. Dinesh gave me a two-handed tight hug when he picked me up from the airport and I knew right away he was special. Arriving at their home, I learned that each child has tasks, such as cooking and cleaning. And they take turns being shift leaders — once again, breaking caste stereotypes. The kids sang, danced and laughed their way through chores with an ease and openness most Westerners long for.

What rings true to me about this impact story is Bruce’s trajectory as an entrepreneur. In 2006, the magical day that all entrepreneurs dream of had arrived! He exited his company, took care of his workers and split the proceeds with his partner. Yet, on a routine doctor’s visit, he was unexpectedly rushed to open heart surgery. Upon recovering, Bruce, I believe, found his own answer to “How much is enough (money)?” and put his focus on his next start-up: the children of Nepal.

Bruce has never gone back to “work,” but he and Susan work harder than they ever have. He admits that sometimes he lands in the dusty, polluted city of Kathmandu in the throes of jet lag and wonders, “What am I doing here? I could be at my lake house drinking white wine on my pontoon boat” — but then he sees the kids smile and remembers why.

I learned a lot on my journey with Bruce. Start by doing something. Do it gradually and test it out. Hire an operator. And above all, inject love into all your work.

The Keenans did not abandon their entrepreneurial itch, they just shifted the focus. They continue to build something meaningful, but instead of looking for an exit or looking to scale across the globe, his scale is generational. Each kid that graduates from his program has hope, love and an opportunity to improve the lives of everyone they touch. As he explains during a strategic meeting, “At the end of the day, if the kids in our family are happy, then that is a win!”

I agree.

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog