IPaintMyMind’s founder Evan La Ruffa is a renaissance kind of dude. He founded and runs IPMM, just got his MBA, is a dad, is about to launch a new mystery company, and somehow still finds time to practice his art. He was recently featured on Ross Palmer’s podcast Beat The Often Path, where he talks about the benefits of being a nonprofit, creating sustainable revenue streams to fund IPMM’s mission, and how most of actualizing a dream is taking small imperfect steps forward.
Ross’ podcast focuses on unconventional or surprising business ventures, interviewing founders and entrepreneurs about their stories and values. Check out Beat The Often Path here, and listen to the episode featuring Evan La Ruffa here. Read ahead for some of Evan La Ruffa’s thoughts on progress and constant creativity.
Today, IPMM is a nonprofit with a uniquely effective model. We have created mutually beneficial and value-driven funding streams that allow us to fully fund and grow our education work. Our Art Rentals, Custom Murals, and Art Consulting programs allow us to support artists and schools, funding our arts programming. We’ve had great success developing this model, and it has allowed us unprecedented freedom in how we operate and what choices we make. We’re largely independent, operating at over 90% earned income. (Almost unheard of in the nonprofit world!)
We don’t have to waste time making desperate pleas for funding, or deal with the attached strings that so often come with large charitable donations. Evan says, “This means that we can ensure that our True North stays our True North.” Our decisions are driven purely by the evolving needs of the communities that we serve.
Evan notes that, “So many nonprofits don’t think about sustainable ways to fund their missions,” and in turn, dilute the efficacy of what they can do and what they can offer. Nonprofit teams often get caught up in the mission as being separate from how they can pursue it. We don’t separate different aspects of IPMM, instead integrating everything into our mission and what drives us. “It’s always about mission for us, because all of our work is connecting communities through art, whether through curating art for the adidas Originals Store or installing an art gallery at a CPS school on the Southside.”
Like it or not, money and funding is a super important arena for a nonprofit. It requires intention, financial competence, and lots of strategy testing. Evan explains, “A lot of us on the social left have a knowledge gap, we don’t understand business the way we should.” This isn’t an insurmountable problem, and folks like Evan are evidence of that! He’s worked hard on developing our funding model and making it work like it does today. This required a lot of learning, bringing good financial heads into IPMM, and even getting an MBA.
For a nonprofit, “Efficiency and impact for your dollar needs to be evaluated as critically as a top traded stock CEO is thinking about buybacks to get their numbers right.” There needs to be a renaissance in nonprofit money management, or the whole nonprofit sector will continue to flounder in the world of grant writing and groveling for large donations, unable to maximize their impact and services. IPMM’s model proves that thinking outside the box monetarily, and having a really cohesive, synthesized plan works. Evan sees IPMM and a few other nonprofits as great case studies for this innovation in nonprofits. “The nonprofit sector is totally redefining the future nature of good work.”
Evan believes that the recent trend of stylish social entrepreneurship is somewhat misguided. Companies like Tom’s and Bombas are cool One For One companies, but that sustainability in the sector doesn’t build that way, as it’s hard to replicate that kind of niche success. If there’s a mission-driven component to your business, he thinks that you should be a nonprofits. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. A mission-driven idea should alway prioritize values and impact over profit. The only way to really ensure this in practice is through becoming a nonprofit. If you’re resistant to the idea, ask yourself why.
The negative connotations around nonprofit status are really intimately connected to fear and shame around money. Folks are so afraid of losing out on comfort and profit, that they close themselves off to the idea of founding a nonprofit or turning an existing venture into a nonprofit. Evan says, “There is a huge myth and misconception about revenue generation in the nonprofit sector.” At IPaintMyMind, we’re still able to sell things, whether it’s our Art Rental Services or our B2C arts education downloadables. And, even as 501(c)3, IPMM pays its employees fairly for the work that they’re doing. You can survive and thrive working for or running a nonprofit.
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