How To Build a Non-Profit

Jasbina Ahluwalia asks Deepa Iyer, former Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT: From those different experiences, how did you go about building this non-profit from scratch?



Deepa Iyer

SAALT was created by a number of people all around the country in 2000.

I was asked by the board at that time to join the board of directors of the organization. It was a very new organization. I was really excited to be on board.


How To Build a Non-Profit: Passion of Issues

I asked if the organization could focus on an issue that was very dear to my heart at the time. That was around hate violence and the fact that South Asians were reporting very high incidents of hate violence, bullying and harassment.

That led me to work on a documentary around hate violence. Shortly thereafter, September 11th occurred.

As you and the audience knows, it was a real watershed moment for the South Asian community in terms of the impact, backlash, bullying and profiling that South Asians, Sikhs, Muslims and others faced.


How To Build a Non-Profit: Stay Current

At that point, SAALT took a stand in order to address the post-9-11 environment. We spent a number of years trying to raise money and build some credibility.

In 2004, the organization was able to hire its first staff, which was me. I still remember starting at SAALT in August of 2004.


How To Build a Non-Profit: Start Small

We were in a one-room windowless office in midtown Manhattan. When you opened the door, you would hit my desk. That’s how small it was. We were severely under-resourced, under-staffed and untested.

The board of directors, volunteers and myself had a concept and a vision. It was to create a progressive voice for South Asians at the national level and build meaningful relationships with community members and organizations around the country so that we could address issues like civil rights, immigration and other issues that we address now.


How To Build a Non-Profit: Key Elements

Building the non-profit had a couple of elements to it.

  • One was a strong vision and idea of what it was that the non-profit would stand for.
  • Second was to make sure that we were bringing into the non-profit people who could reach that vision and help us fulfill it, whether that meant staff, board members or volunteers.
  • The third was to take risks to try to make sure that we were being creative in our thinking and alliances. We wanted to take risks that would end up paying off.


Those were a few ways in which we began to build the non-profit in the early years.


Tell Us:

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The above is an excerpt from Jasbina’s interview with Deepa Iyer

The entire interview transcript is at: Deepa Iyer NetIP (Network of Indian Professionals) Interview – Leading & Working at Non-Profits

Listen to the entire interview on: Intersections Match Talk Radio – Jasbina’s Lifestyle Show

Listen to the entire interview on Blog Talk Radio: NetIP Spotlight- Live Your Potential: Leading & Working at Nonprofits

Listen to the entire interview on iTunes