Jeff Strickland and his staff of 13 run a nonprofit that is on a mission to help young people by accounting for real-world issues and nature in their lives.
Our Kids Future Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization designed to help teenagers and young adults who are underprivileged and to get kids away from technology to learn about the natural world around them. Founded in February 1996, the organization is based in Harmony, California, a dairy town centrally located in the Golden State known for being one of the smallest towns in America with a population of just 18.
The nonprofit currently has a facility situated on property that was previously occupied by a military radar station. It used to serve as a residence for young adults and families who were homeless that the nonprofit took in, but it is now primarily used for holding workshops that the organization hosts.
“The primary mission of this organization is to coach teenagers and young adults toward sustainability in their lives,” Strickland says. “We also want to get these young people away from the Internet and electronics and out into nature. Basically, we want kids to be more connected to the real world rather than the virtual world, but we certainly recognize the importance of technology.”
Strickland, who used to work in the banking industry, says the inspiration for starting Our Kids Future Foundation came from work he had previously done in the community and from his keen interest in nature.
“I was doing volunteer work for youth homes,” he says. “I felt futile in that anything I was doing just wasn’t really working. So I thought about doing something on my own. I discovered that the business model my colleagues and I designed to help kids was starting to work.”
He believes the foundation’s mission has and will continue to make it a success, although it is going through a bit of a transition phase.
“Our future is dependent on our kids,” he says.
He also believes partnerships with other organizations like the YMCA and the United Way are essential, and he has worked in conjunction with them numerous times.
There are several activities involved in the workshops. They include making farming tools like knives, crafts, and other items originally used in the 1800s. In addition, kids get to care for plants and learn about animals that make up the local ecosystem.
Strickland thoroughly enjoys seeing kids benefit from the programs his nonprofit offers.
“We love to see graduates from our program keep their motivation levels high and be successful as adults,” he says. “Another rewarding part of it is to see that things from the past can still work today.”
He and his team feel they have carved out a niche in the nonprofit realm, which is why there isn’t a ton of current competition out there.
“There are really no organizations we’ve found that do things the way we do them,” he says. “We are always trying to keep moving in a direction that is different. One thing we strive for is to put most of the money we bring in toward our mission rather than toward our administration.”
Marketing the Nonprofit
Word-of-mouth has been the biggest marketing strategy for the organization, Strickland says. However, it also has a large Internet presence through a unique network of websites that get over 5,000 visitors each day. The main site is www.okff.org.
“We like to use less intrusive ways to advertise online,” he says. “We call it center out where the main part of a webpage is in the center and the rest is around it. We use artistically-pleasant designs for our sites that are clean and easy to read.”
Challenges are simply part of the game when starting up a new business and maintaining it long-term. Strickland says he and his staff have come across many of these common hurdles.
“The economy is the big problem right now,” he says. “We are trying to figure out how to do things the old-fashioned way where you don’t spend more money than you have.
“As a nonprofit, we are challenged every year on new IRS regulations that make it harder to focus on our mission. Far too much time is spent on doing paperwork. You almost have to have a full-time administrative person to only handle the paperwork aspect of it.”
His advice to aspiring small business owners is to be patient and use your best judgment in determining whether a business plan is viable or not.
“Startup costs cause most new companies to go out of business. If a business model looks like it’s working, then you should establish a formal entity for it. You will end up increasing your profits to make up for the inefficiencies you dealt with early on. Grow the company wisely and slowly. Make sure it’s controlled growth. The instant overnight success stories are very rare.”
While Strickland loves being self-employed and feels there are far more incentives to it than drawbacks, he still recommends that all new small business owners maintain a side job if possible due to the risky nature of diving into something new.
As a client of 1-800Accountant, Strickland has found the accounting firm’s services beneficial in many ways.
“I really like the concept of 1-800Accountant,” he says. “They are really helping us with our bookkeeping, which can be a little complicated. I would absolutely recommend 1-800Accountant to others.”
Photo credit: The photograph of Harmony, California is by photographer J. Ascenzi. This photograph is published under a Creative Commons License from Flickr.