Jeff Haanen


Over the years, I’ve often received the question How did you do that? That is, how did you start Denver Institute for Faith & Work? The founding of DIFW was a one part grace (both God’s and other’s), one part luck, and one part perseverance. The great thing about our story is that we didn’t need anybody famous to make it work. We prayed, we convened, we planned, we executed, we failed, and then we tried again.

Are you interested in starting your own Faith & Work Institute? Here’s a few practical steps on how to get started:

1. Make a plan.

You can’t get anybody on board without a plan — with deadlines. A simple 2 page document is enough. Include measurable goals, action points, and deadlines, and hold yourself to them. Include goals for programming, fundraising, administration, and communication. This will be how you recruit your board.

2. Form a strong board.

Your board members are your best cheerleaders, strategic advisors, donors, and, early on, co-workers. Recruit a board that (1) Follows Christ, (2) Believes in your mission, (3) Gives generously and (4) Contributes a particular skill set you need, and (5) Connects you to a key part of the city.

3. Draw in pastors / industry leaders in an advisory role.

At the outset of DIFW, I found that our church advisory council and our advisory board did two things very quickly for us: (1) They built public trust in our new organization, and (2) They helped to form the programming we designed for our market. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.”

4. File for 501(c)3.

If you’re not an independent 501(c)3, you need to file ASAP. Legitimacy in the nonprofit world depends on this little note from the IRS. Find a friend who’s a lawyer, and get it filed ASAP.

5. Initiate branding, website, and communication rhythms early.

Even before we initiated our first program, we got an identity package (logo), worked on a simple website, and started sending monthly newsletters. This is key to starting the long road to building trust in your mission.

6. Get a public event on the calendar.

Do it early. Even before you’re ready. I recommend an event because it’s easy to pull off, gets your name out to the community, and is easy to communicate to donors what you did. (Make sure to video record it.) This will be your next step toward legitimacy.

7. Fundraising: Share your vision with everybody.

Coffee is cheap. So go an have coffee with anybody and everybody who will meet with you. Do only 50% of the talking, but be sure to share the nut of your vision. Ask for permission to stay in touch. Year-end giving and your board will be the core of your early revenue streams.

8. Start new programs, learn from your mistakes, change, and start again. 

Entrepreneurs make mistakes. Lots of them. The secret is to do it often and cheaply.  Put the plans for a program together, get it out to the world, humbly accept feedback, make changes, and try again. Be courageous. Your identity is not at stake.  And put your idea out there .

9. Embrace institution-building and becoming a generalist. 

Building a new organization is tons of work. What is a website widget? I’ve never read P&L statements before! Do I really have to do board reports? So much of your work is not just administration – it’s building a new institution. One you believe can last for generations. You’ll have to start learning to do things way outside your expertise. That’s ok.  The work of an institution-builder is the work of a generalist.

10. Make the Entrepreneurial Leap: Put in your notice and start as the full-time Executive Director. 

This takes courage. And trust in Christ. But once you have 3-6 months of your salary in the bank, give your notice, and do this work full-time. It’ll seem nuts. But this will also motivate you. If this is where God has called you, then don’t turn back. God is with you.

11. Pray, show gratitude, and give the glory to Christ.

Launching a new organization – and having a measure of success — is a gift of grace. Thank God often in your prayers. Thank your board, thank your donors, thank your program participants. Gratitude is central to building a lasting institution, and it is what gives our work a lasting and deep joy.

Since DIFW started in 2012, God has been at work in other cities. Check out what other Faith & Work Institutes have been popping up around the US: Nashville Institute for Faith and Work, Los Angeles Center for Faith & Work, Chattanooga Institute for Faith & Work

Need some help getting started? Contact me. 


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