When I started the Lane County Diaper Bank along with Dina Harper, there were so many packages of diapers stacked in my living room that my son used them to build forts. Four years and 300,000 diapers later, Lane County Diaper Bank has an office and off-site storage space and is fundraising to support an even larger warehouse. Instead of coming home from my day job and writing grants until midnight, I am the diaper bank’s first paid full-time employee.

There are many reasons why we’ve grown so quickly: a dynamic board of directors, assistance from NDBN, and a lot of wisdom generously shared by our fellow Oregonians at the PDX Diaper Bank. While startup nonprofits can easily be consumed by immediate demands, Lane County Diaper Bank has always made time for planning. I believe that’s a major contributor to our growth. We’ve done financial planning from day one, so that we knew exactly where the money would come from to achieve our goals. If I could travel back in time, I would have encouraged our board to develop a strategic plan at the outset of operation. I know this is often seen as an expensive process requiring consultants and much time from the board and staff. Even a streamlined DIY plan can help startup organizations to chart a course and learn the specific steps they must take to achieve goals and be sustainable.

Our diaper bank started out of a desire for sustainability. I had been seeing moms post online about needing diapers. This hurt my heart, so I began buying diapers for families. On my one salary, there was a ceiling on how many I could help. The Lane County Diaper Bank was a way to bring many people in my community together to address diaper need on a much bigger scale.

Having an organization helped – it filled my house with diapers that went out into the community where families were really in need. But I could not order diapers by the truckload. For the most part, the diaper bank bought diapers by the case online.  This was inefficient. We paid more for diapers than if we’d bought in volume; and my son and I were wrapping diapers a few cases at a time. Getting a storage space became a fundraising priority for us.

Through an NDBN Funds for Change grant and community support, we were able to rent a shipping crate that has been converted into a storage space. This allows us to serve more partner organizations. We’re at 10 partners now and anticipate adding two more partners this year. We’re buying our diapers at a better price and hosting wrapping parties where volunteers repackage diapers on tables outside of the shipping container. One of the beautiful things about diaper banking is that once you explain diaper need to people, they do want to help. Creating space for more volunteers has strengthened us as an organization.

We are also welcoming volunteers in our new office. This gives us a place to meet with local businesses who want to help us. We have primarily gotten our support from foundations so far. Our financial plan calls for diversifying funding sources, and businesses are our next priority. I feel much more confident talking with corporate leaders in an office setting rather than across my dining room table. One of the personal benefits I’ve gotten from having an office space is that we now can do some direct distribution. Families tell me what a difference the diapers make, which reminds me why I started diaper banking in the first place.

As I said, we’re about to add two more partner agencies, but we know that there is a great deal of need in the rural and urban communities that we serve. We require an even larger warehouse space. As I approach bigger foundations, I find that many of them want applicants to submit a strategic plan. That’s why when someone asks me how to start an organization, I say, “Do the strategic plan right away!”

Startup nonprofit organizations are a challenge. Diaper banks at any stage are a challenge. But I find that having clear plans to follow helps me rise to the challenge. Our team knows what we need to do to meet our goals, and that’s comforting. Again: People do want to help. When you have a plan in place, you can say: “We need more space to serve families on the east side of the county. If you give us a discount on the rent, we can help X number of babies stay clean, dry and healthy.”

You never know how any single prospect will respond. But I know that diapers are a gamechanger for babies and the adults who care for them. If I can communicate that to people and show that Lane County Diaper Bank has a workable plan to address diaper need, enough people will say “Yes!” to keep us growing for the benefit of families.