Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Non-Profit Business Idea

Every time I drive around Lincoln I see some great old houses that are run down and think, how great would it be to fix those up. Flipping houses was profitable for those who knew what they were doing before the real estate bubble and economy, as a whole, popped.

Flipping isn't what I have in mind though. It's more along the lines of Extreme Make Over Home Edition. There are many homes owned or rented by those making minimum wage or less. Now with an unemployment rate at just over 9% there are probably those who were once middle-class hurting.

The problem is that when money is tight there are other priorities than your home, until they become critical. Those are the people I want to help.

Who would be helped would be decided based on requests. A needy family would submit for assistance. Friends or family would also be able to submit for others. An inspector would be sent out to evaluate the specific problem or problems and rate them on a point system. The inspector would also note any other problems that needed to be addressed and rate them accordingly.

The inspections would be evaluated and tackled on a highest need first basis. This would also be highly dependent on resources. Lets face it, there are many needy families and homes out there and one organization, especially just getting started, would not be able to help everyone.

The organization would be highly dependent on volunteers, not only for money, but for time and resources. Asking for labor and experience not only from contractors but skilled DIYers would be a large part of the success of the organization. There would be room for non-skilled laborers as well, but from my, admittedly small, experience with Habitat for Humanity, those individuals are not always needed.

I should note that I have nothing but respect for Habitat for Humanity, but I don't want to build new homes. I'm against urban sprawl and the current trend of cookie cutter homes. There are so many great old neighborhoods with beautiful old homes that just need some work to become great once again.

In addition to the remodeling aspect of the organization there would likely need to be a store-front/warehouse. Asking for labor and even financial donations is great but not everyone is able to give those, so for those who cannot give in that way, perhaps they can give extra materials from their own remodel or even buy needed items, just as others do when they buy extra groceries for donation to the local food bank. Many times during a remodel or even in new construction there are left over or salvageable materials. These could be used in the organizations remodel projects or sold in the store-front. In the past I purchased a window for a basement in just such a store. There were a lot of great usable goods there.

So why wouldn't the organization just use any materials donated to it? Well there are two reasons I can think of and they speak of how I think any of these remodels should be done. First, some donated materials, such as windows, may be old and inefficient. Some people would be interested in them for preserving historic homes, but that's not the goal here. The second reason is simple, time. An organization that is living heavily on the labor of volunteers has to be efficient. Recycling is great and I would want to do so as much as reasonable, but there are going to be times when getting new will save money by saving time.

I think any remodel done should be done correctly from the start. That means doing any and all work to code. That also means doing it with the right materials. As I mentioned, recycling has it's place, but using the right materials will make sure the work done will last for many years instead of a couple years or even months. I don't want to have to revisit a home that has been fixed, not only is that bad public relations, it's just bad. If we can't do it right we shouldn't do it.

That leads me to my main area of uncertainty. What do we do when a house is beyond repair or the repair costs would be so high that it doesn't make sense to fix it. We can't just leave those people high and dry, but as I said before, I don't want to be in the new house construction business. Would tearing down and rebuilding be cost effective? Would it be better to buy another fixer upper for that family, and fix that one for them? Would there be enough financial donations to maintain either of those solutions? From my experience with food banks, it's not so much labor that they are short on but rather food and money. Having to completely rebuild or buy another home for a family would be very costly and could make it difficult to help the others who might just need a new roof or new stove. Those are choices I don't relish.

Perhaps a partnership with other non-profit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, or even local churches is the solution.

I'm certain I would do this locally. Not only because of my love for my town and state, but because there is no way I could help all the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of needy people. That is part of the reason I'm posting this 'business plan' on my blog. I don't care if someone else takes this idea and runs with it. In fact I'd be delighted if they did!

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