Blog: Jeff Newsom

Paper and plastic bags, be gone! Plastic grocery sacks, now banned everywhere from China to South Africa to San Francisco, make eco-blogger Jeff Newsom's tank top shirt bags a viable choice. Proceeds from these fashion-cum-function totes support A-ShirtBag, his environmental education non-profit. This week, Jeff waxes eloquent on what it takes to start a non-profit in Detroit...

Jeff Newsom - Post 1: Getting a Non-profit Started

The road to starting a non-profit organization has been a long and winding one for me. After many years in the advertising world, I was used to throwing money at something and getting it done quickly with no remorse. I have learned that the non-profit sector does not work that way at all.  After discovering an ingenious bag made from a used tank top, or as they call it in the garment business, an A-shirt on the streets of NYC, I thought to my self "What a cool idea." Now the question was "what do I do with it?"

While listening to a powerful lecture by Cameron Sinclair at Cranbrook Institute about sustainable building structures in under-developed countries, the idea came to me: start a non-profit organization, collect used tank tops, make them into bags, and donate the money to environmental causes. With no start up funds and this simple idea I began my journey into the non-profit sector and environmental madness.

The first issue was to figure out how to organize and file for 501c3 non-profit status. So I went to Lansing and took an informative start-up non-profit class that really put things into perspective. It was the basics and explained the who, what and where to getting started over a lengthy seven-hour period. I highly recommend this course if you're just starting a non-profit organization and wish to get things done right the first time around. Info about this and many other important issues for non-profits is available here.

The second was to create a strong brand with an even better mission. The branding part came pretty easily to me because of my past experience in the advertising world and the many contacts that I have amassed over the years with the top agencies and best talents here in Metro Detroit. I figured asking for free services from these companies and people would be a breeze and that non-profit work to me is CHARITY, which means no monetary compensation, other than feeling good about what you gave without a fat wallet to follow. I was surprised at the generous and innovative contributions from these companies and could not be happier with the results.

I approached a company that I admired for years that has done some of the most innovative work nationwide and is based here in Detroit. O2 creative solutions prepared an unbelievable logo/product design/website and overall branding concept that was out of this world. We discussed as a group why my idea was important and how to design a sustainable non-profit and also what would it take to make it work.

Wow… was I in for a challenge, but really excited to see how all this would pan out. But enough for now. In the next posts, I will try to inform you readers about what it took and how it happened from the legal planning and educational program development aspects, sustainable actions for the products and our office, to the public relations process, followed by the most important aspect: trying to fund your non profit organization in a weak economy.