Virginia Home Renovation Nonprofit Works without Structure

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 August 14, 2016; Free-Lance Star (Fredericksburg, VA)

James Roberson owns a family business in Virginia. He has also worked in other states as a church volunteer doing home construction and renovation projects. When he realized there was a need for similar work in his own community and region, he rounded up volunteers from his church and elsewhere to start a “construction ministry” to take on projects for homeowners in need, such as installing wheelchair ramps and repairing homes with flood damage.

The organization, 516 Project, applied for tax-exempt recognition from the IRS in January and was approved only a month later—a far cry from the huge backlogs the IRS reported just a few years ago.

Roberson has a business background, passion for mission, a budding cadre of volunteers, and experience in his nonprofit’s chosen work. There’s only one thing missing. Speaking about his organization, he says, “It’s good but tough. It’s still like running a full business. There are books, you have to manage people.” This is a surprise? Nonprofits are corporations with needs for due diligence, accountability, transparency, and operations and governance integrity.

The Free-Lance Star article doesn’t refer to, much less quote, any 516 Project board members, and the nonprofit’s website doesn’t refer to a board of directors. There is every possibility that Roberson will hire or contract for the staff support he needs to supplement volunteer efforts to keep the organization ethical and legal, raise funds, and build sustainability. However, we must observe that a family business owner apparently started a nonprofit with such a laser focus on mission and programs that business planning and building a governance structure appear to have been neglected. We hope that Roberson and his volunteers will take on 516 Project itself as their next project, using their passion and their corporate structure as the framework for building a true community-based nonprofit organization.—Michael Wyland