Are you passionate about a particular issue or cause, and have been thinking about starting a nonprofit? Before you start filling out paperwork there are several things to consider before starting a nonprofit. But first I want to congratulate you on your desire to serve others. The world and your community need people like you who see a need and set out to fill a void.
Why a Blog Post on Things to Consider Before Starting a Nonprofit
Full disclaimer, I am not a business expert and this blog post is not exhaustive. In early 2019 I set up a nonprofit and everything I am sharing is based on my personal experience. I had no idea what I was doing when I started out, it is my hope that this blog post will help anyone who is thinking about forming a nonprofit.
The following wise words help to keep me focused and grounded.
“Don’t be afraid to grow and help others; if God placed your vision on your heart then it means for you to pursue and thrive in. Along with that, don’t be afraid to recognize and acknowledge that you cannot bring your vision into its true light on your own. Trust and leadership is key to success. Find a nonprofit development coach, marketing and brand professional, build your board, take time to plan accordingly, trust the process and trust God.” Chase Glass, Founder and Executive Director.
Is your idea a nonprofit, for-profit or other?
You are bursting with ideas, excitement and sleepless nights thinking about all that you are going to do. But there are some questions and things to be considered before starting a nonprofit. Preparation will help save you hundreds of hours and mistakes that many nonprofit founders make. So, first things first, is your idea a nonprofit, for profit or other?
Are you willing to take direction from a group of people that ultimately have control of your idea? Will you be charging for your services? If the answer to these two questions is yes and no respectively, you should start a nonprofit! A not for profit (501c3) benefits the greater good of the community, society, or the world. It does not pay taxes, and has to use its funds on the mission for which it was formed. If the organization has a profit, it must be used only on the operation of the nonprofit. When a nonprofit goes out of business, its remaining assets must be given to another nonprofit.
Do you want to bring people together to learn a skill or purchase services? If your answer is yes, you should start a business. When you start a business, it is for the financial benefit of its owners and/or shareholders. The goal of the business is to make a profit, and the business pays taxes on that profit. If the owners of the business decide to close the business, its profits can be liquidated and the proceeds distributed to the owners or shareholders.
Maybe a for-profit business as described above does not fit your needs, but you want to bring people together to learn a skill or purchase services. If this is the case, maybe you want to organize an event such as conferences, or ongoing services.
Things to Consider Before Starting a Nonprofit
It is critical to know yourself and that you understand your values, and the belief system that is driving you to want to start a nonprofit. This is an internal process that will push you to grow in ways that you cannot imagine at this stage. Understand what is calling you to want to start a nonprofit and what you want to do with it. Starting a nonprofit is like no other experience I’ve had, be willing to grow and evolve. If you are not willing to let go of those beliefs that no longer serve you, maybe you should reconsider starting a nonprofit on your own. This does not mean that you have to give up on your dream of serving others. There are many organizations seeking committed and passionate volunteers or support.
Know Your Why
Understanding your why is critical because you will face some difficult challenges along the way. The highs are high and the lows will make you doubt everything, some of these moments will drive you to want to give up. Knowing your why will help to keep you focused.
I have found that sharing my vision with a select group of trusted family and friends helped to keep me accountable to my vision. When we share our dreams and goals with others they no longer just live in our mind, we have released them to the world. This is an external process that will require you to listen to advice, but not allow the naysayers to stop you. Be willing to be truly honest with yourself, if this is about your ego or about how others see you, you may not be on the right path. If the why is about the community you are trying to serve and creating change, continue to the next step.
Not Everyone Will Understand or Support Your Vision
Be prepared to share your vision with others, my suggestion is to start out with a trusted friend who will offer support. Once you feel more confident and have worked out some of the details, you can share with the rest of the world. Not everyone will understand or will support your vision. Knowing yourself and your why will help you move past any negative feedback or lack of support. Remember that you get to choose how you react to the feedback you will receive along the way.
Who Are You Trying to Serve?
You will now need to identify who you are trying to serve. Who is your target population, what are the challenges or barriers they are facing and need help with. Be clear on your target population, get granular and drill down. Knowing your target population will also help you develop the mission and purpose of your organization. The more detailed you get about your target population and the barriers they are facing, the more information you will have to help you identify how your organization will meet their needs, or fill a gap in services in your community.
This is also the time to check around your community to make sure no one else is already doing what you are thinking of. If there is already an organization serving your target population, consider volunteering with them. There is no need to create competition in the same area, you may be better off volunteering with the organization and finding out as much as you can about them. I know it may not sound as exciting to do this, but once again remember your why. Trust me when I tell you that your local nonprofit will welcome you as a volunteer. I’ve had several young women reach out to ask about forming a nonprofit and have gladly brought them in to experience first hand what we do. There is nothing better than hands on experience.
Name Your Nonprofit
You now get to name your organization. Google the names you are thinking of, check domain name availability to make sure the name is available. I also suggest you check the name with your Secretary of State to make sure that the name is available.
Once you have a list of names that appeal to you, make sure that others are able to grasp what it is you are doing and who you are trying to serve. Keep in mind that when you create a website it needs to be easy to remember and spell. This is the time to think about a potential logo, visualize the name and logo combinations. This may all sound daunting, trust your creativity and have fun! Take your time and get creative, don’t hesitate to enlist the help of friends and family.
The vision and mission of your organization should be short with a specific purpose. Donors will take a look at your mission in order to determine if they can support you. Be very specific about your mission, who you will be serving, even going as far as including geographical location if needed. The mission should be clear and concise, you should be able to state your mission in a sentence or two.
How will you fund your nonprofit? A good starting point is to find local foundations that may be interested in funding what you are trying to do. Reach out to and talk to nonprofit leaders in your community to find out what they are doing. I found that once I shared my vision with friends and family, many had great suggestions and ideas for me.
Don’t be afraid to ask for financial support from friends and family. I realize that the fear of rejection may stop you, but remember that you are creating something great. When you believe in yourself and your mission, you will come across as positive and confident. Although not everyone will be able to make a financial donation, many will be happy to help you in other valuable ways.
One of the greatest lessons I learned when it came to funding is that not everyone I thought was going to help did, and those that I didn’t think would help me did. Be open to the possibilities and you will be greatly rewarded.
Please note that at this young stage few foundations award large grants. An organization needs to have at least a few years of proven experience before you can apply for large federal or foundation grants. It is my personal experience that fundraising is all about personal relationships. No one will give you a dollar if you are not able to establish a relationship based on trust and track record.
There are many resources that you can access on fundraising on-line. I like https://learning.candid.org the site offers courses and valuable information on almost any topic. It is important to keep track of all of your programs and numbers served. This information will be critical once you start applying for small and large grants. Keep records of all expenses and funds. Few things will threaten the longevity of your organization like messy financials.
This is a good time to also consider hiring a CPA or accountant to help guide you with your state and federal financial requirements. I hired a CPA to help me file the 501c3 filing, the firm provided guidance and peace of mind. I cannot emphasize this enough, there are no second chances when it comes to questionable financial records, hire an accountant that can help you stay organized.
Find Your Tribe
Having friends and family that are supportive of your vision is helpful, but not necessary. We all want to be supported, but if you are not getting the help and support you need, go out and find it. Yes, this will require you to step out of your comfort zone, but you are already doing that!
One of the greatest gifts I have received since starting a nonprofit has been the new friendships I’ve made along the way. Each person I have come in contact with has helped me to see the world from a different perspective. I’ve also met some of the most incredible women who support my dreams and offer their help with no expectation in return. You too, will find your tribe along the way.
It is natural to doubt yourself during this time, but the moment you decided to start a nonprofit you made the decision to turn your dreams into reality. You can do it! The key to fulfilling your purpose is to perceive yourself as already doing it. Imagine and visualize yourself doing what you dream of, see yourself as limitless, nothing can stop you.
I listen to motivational podcasts and follow people I admire on social media. Surround yourself with positive people who support your dreams and mission. Whatever you do, don’t listen to negative naysayers, and never, ever doubt that you are meant for greatness. You get to decide where and how far you will go, dream big and go for it!
I hope that this blog post was useful to you, please remember that the information provided here is just a starting point.
Best of luck in your endeavor, you can do it! Trust your calling and know that if you were not meant for great things you would not have had the idea and desire to create something great. Don’t hesitate to leave me your questions or feedback in the comments section below.
I leave you with one last quote,
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”