A For-Profit for Nonprofits: Can It Work? By Evelyn Horng

Evelyn Horng picI have always been interested in social causes.  In college, I majored in public policy, and I interned one summer for a nonprofit that organizes done-in-a-day projects for busy people who can’t commit to long term volunteer opportunities.  I also volunteered quite a bit myself – helping to build homes for low income people, pulling out non-native vegetation (aka weeding!), sorting food at a food bank.….

My senior year in college, the obvious set in.  You just don’t make as much money working in nonprofit as you do in the for-profit world.  I envisioned the kind of life I wanted for myself, and the type of funds that would be needed to support it.  And while I never imagined a lavish lifestyle, I just didn’t want to struggle to buy a home in Silicon Valley, or worry about covering all my expenses.

So I entered the corporate world, doing a two-year stint in strategy consulting and then moving on to high tech product management, and climbing the professional ladder.  By the time the kids came around, I started re-thinking how I wanted to spend my time.  I wasn’t quite satisfied in my last job, and I was looking for more….

More personal fulfillment,
More flexible work situation,
More control over what I was doing….

So a co-worker and I started a company called Roonga (www.roonga.com).  Its original goal was to encourage people to share things with their friends and trusted groups.  In doing so, we’d encourage reuse, reduce waste, and help our communities be more sustainable.  But smaller trusted circles made it harder to get rid of things you no longer need, and people didn’t always have the things that you need in these tighter networks.  So recently, we’ve redirected Roonga to work with nonprofits, providing a platform for nonprofits to communicate in-kind needs and building an audience of followers specifically interested in hearing about these.

With the latest turn that Roonga has taken, I feel like I’ve come full circle back to where I started.  We are working with nonprofits to improve the efficiency of their in-kind donations, and to support their causes by opening up their audience.  In the process, I am learning a lot about the local causes in Silicon Valley, and I am having a great time doing this!

However, it remains to be seen whether we can build a successful for-profit company working with nonprofits.  Roonga is a for-profit company – we like the potential of allowing employees to benefit from the company’s success, and we feel it is important to reward talent at competitive for-profit rates.  And for me, I like the self-fulfillment of working for a nonprofit cause, while also still retaining the for-profit mindset.  I’d like to think that we can take the best of both worlds and meld them into Roonga – but we are only at the beginning of our journey and still have a long way to go…..  The future is ahead of us, and we’ll have to see where we end up.

In the meantime, take a look at our nonprofit beta, follow one of our local nonprofits (http://www.roonga.com/nonprofit/#california), and let me know what you think!  Email me at ehorng@roonga.com with any thoughts, suggestions, or feedback.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Evelyn Horng is the co-founder of Roonga, a Silicon Valley startup.  She was previously VP, Product Management, at MLSListings, Inc., and held other product management positions in various high tech companies.  She has a B.A. in Public Policy from Stanford University.  She spends most of her spare time trying to keep up with her two young sons.

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2 Comments

  1. So delighted to see you launching this company, Evelyn! As we used to say in graduate school “One day in the lab will save you 6 months in the library!” Launching and experimenting are valid ways to find out what’s possible in the business world, especially when the up front cost is so low, as it is for this venture. Keep going! Enjoy the ride!

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