Five Nonprofits That Prove the Mission Matters, No Matter How Offbeat

These nonprofits have seen success by following their mission with a singular focus—even when that leads them to offbeat places. Read on to see what you can learn about the power of purpose.

When you run a nonprofit, mission is everything, and your passion for that mission can help define how your organization meets its broader goals.

That mission doesn’t necessarily have to be one-note. It can be ambitious, prospective, experimental, even futuristic. But as long as you’re willing to stand behind it and conduct all of your activities with your eyes on that purpose—and more importantly, build a community to support it—you have a strong opportunity to excel.

With that in mind, here are some nonprofits that focus on unusual or offbeat areas—but that still find success, because they’re all-in. It could inspire some mission-oriented work within your organization.

1. CalEarth: The Power of Domes

Many associations build on their mission. The California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (CalEarth) does that literally.

An organization structured (pun intended) around the concepts of its late founder, Iranian architect Nader Khalili, CalEarth aims to popularize SuperAdobe housing: structures built from traditional earth-based materials (primarily dirt, with some bonding materials) that can also meet modern building codes.

A winner of the Hackaday Prize in 2020, the organization’s long-term goal is to help find ways to create shelters for those most in need.

“It’s a laborious process for certain, but the result is a sustainable home that’s easy to heat and cool even in weather extremes, and can withstand natural disasters including seismic shocks,” Hackaday’s Kristina Panos wrote.

2. Free Geek: An Alternative to E-Waste

The digital revolution hasn’t been easy to ignore, but there are still plenty of gaps for audiences that don’t own a computer—or know how to use one.

That’s where the Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit Free Geek comes into play. The organization, which reports that 27 percent of Americans don’t own a computer, takes in digital equipment from a variety of sources, refurbishes it, and donates much of it to the community, while helping to fund its goals by selling some of it through eBay and its local storefront.

Free Geek, active since 2000, has inspired organizations in numerous other cities to launch their own variations globally, including Detroit, Minneapolis, Oslo, and Vancouver. On top of that, the organization brings in thousands of volunteers each year—more than 35,000 since its launch 22 years ago.

3. Nest: Supporting the Original Creator Economy

Craftwork is a key part of many cultures, large and small, but it often hides behind the scenes, leaving many cultures disconnected from resources that could expand the reach and financial benefits of their handiwork.

This is where Nest comes into play. The organization, founded in 2007 by then-recent master’s degree recipient Rebecca van Bergen, has emphasized the work of global craft creators, many of whom are women.

“Recognizing craft as a viable form of employment for women around the world—one that allows them to care [for] their children while doing something they love—I conceived of the idea to leverage craft sector development as a force for positive change,” she told Hearts on Fire.

This mission has helped propel Nest as it has built accelerator programs and artisan trend reports, in support of craft makers who might not have had access to such resources traditionally.

4. The Institute of Noetic Sciences: Mixing Spiritual and Scientific

Of the organizations on this list, only one can claim that it was founded by a man who walked on the moon. But the Institute of Noetic Sciences can do so, and in a way that is tethered to its mission. Dr. Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to step foot on the moon, had a feeling of interconnectedness when he was up in space, a desire to tie consciousness and spirituality to the lessons of the scientific cosmos—a concept called noetics.

Though Mitchell died in 2016, IONS’ science-meets-spirit approach to the world continues without him, helping to tie concepts like meditation, energy healing, and spontaneous remission to the larger scientific world—and a community of people passionate about these concepts together.

5. American Tortoise Rescue: Fighting for Turtles With Funny Emails

For nearly three decades, this organization has put up a strong front in the fight to help protect turtles and tortoises living at its sanctuary. Helping to support the efforts of the all-volunteer organization? Solid, funny marketing.

The American Tortoise Rescue, which puts on an annual World Turtle Day, isn’t afraid to have fun with its message on social media or over email. (Case in point: The name of the organization’s official newsletter is “Sex, Turtles and Rock ’n Roll.”)

The organization’s fun messaging and worthy cause helps to keep the mission at its center—while not forgetting that the mission is fun. It’s turtles (and tortoises) all the way down.

(via CalEarth’s Facebook page)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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