Why do I put on a beard even though it makes me look objectively uglier? Because it achieves another purpose, it makes me look exponentially older. Age is a game and a tricky one to master -- as a young professional, there are times where youth plays to your advantage and other times where it does not. In the startup not-for-profit (NFP) world however, youth is becoming an increasingly advantageous asset.
Of course, this is not a reductionist argument attempting to correlate the success of NFP's to the single variable of age; rather, it's to shed light on the unique advantages of starting a NFP at a young age. Having founded a non-profit organization called Solar for Life when I was 17, I know firsthand the self-inflicted barriers of age. What most students feel is their biggest obstacle to starting a NFP -- age -- is in fact, their greatest resource. Placing the blame for this phenomena is another argument -- we live in an age centric world and this has its obvious implications.
Take a look at modern day education systems for example, they are predicated on an obsession with aged based learning. In school, instead of being grouped in classrooms based on intellectual merit, we co-exist in a system that falsely correlates intellect and maturity with age. It's therefore not difficult to understand how young professionals see age as a barrier to entry more so than an asset when thinking about starting an organization. In many ways, it has just become customary to do things at different age thresholds and more importantly, not to do things because of different age thresholds.
Don't get me wrong, starting a non-profit is by no means easy nor should it ever be inspired by the wrong reasons; note however, that age shouldn't hinder non-profit ambitions, it should only motivate them-- here are five reasons why:
Opportunity Cost and Time
Students, for the most part, do not need to be financially self-sufficient. You are often fully or partially supported, and thus, the opportunity cost of your time as a student is far less dire. This is the best time to do passion-based work like starting a non-profit because a few years down the line, the pressures for financial self-sufficiency can overburden passion projects. Engage yourself in the time of your life where you're most able to be engaged.
Organizations crave for the ability to mobilize young people in masses, and students can do this with considerably less effort. Your network as a young person is incredible, utilize it. It's also worth noting that your peers as students are far more willing to engage in non-profit volunteering and capacity building -- not only because of the lesser opportunity cost of their time, but also for the experience. There you go, a network, and a team at your door-step.
Businesses are hiring younger marketing people -- those that understand social media as second nature. This point doesn't need much elaboration, the younger you are the more intuitive knowledge you have about online social spaces and this can really help the marketing growth of your NFP.
If two people are starting a NFP, one is 19 and the other is 40 -- it's always going to look more impressive for the 19-year-old. This is simply by nature of the age-centric world we live in, it's not always about the work but rather, the circumstance through which the work is being done. This is not meant to suggest that students should capitalize on superficial attention, but to say that your NFP will get considerably more attention/traction (all variables equal) if you're under 20.
An average person lives a total of 700,000 hours. If you're 20, that would will be approximately 500,000 hours left. You spend one-third of that time eating and sleeping -- which leaves you with approximately 350,000 hours to do everything that you want in life. Harsh I know, but this is not meant to act as a depressant; rather, it's meant to signal the value of doing things in the now. You hear it time and time again, if you're passionate about something, just do it -- don't wait for the perfect opportunity. Clichés become clichés for a reason.
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