How to Start a Nonprofit the Right Way

So you’re passionate about a particular issue in your community, and you want to start a nonprofit? That’s great! But before you get too far into the process, it’s important to understand what’s really involved in starting a nonprofit.

Here are five key questions to ask in order to start a nonprofit the right way.

Who is already doing similar work in your community?

There’s a good chance an organization already exists to address the issue you’re passionate about. If your goal is to make the biggest impact possible in a specific community, the best way might be joining an existing nonprofit with a similar mission and helping them create new programs.

Do some research to find out what other organizations are similar to the one you’re thinking of creating. Think about how their mission is both similar and different from your proposed mission. Take time to chat with that organization about their goals and see if you could work together in some way to achieve a common goal.

Even if you don’t join forces with an existing organization, it’s important to know who else is working toward similar goals in your community. A little advance research can help you differentiate your organization or brainstorm ways to collaborate with others once you’ve officially launched.

Who will invest time and/or money to help with your mission?

Nonprofits take time and money to get off the ground, and it’s usually more time and money than one single person has available. If you can’t find people who are going to join you in the work, it may not be a good idea to start the organization.

A startup nonprofit typically isn’t a full-time job, but it’s a big time commitment for at least five years really. Think of it as a side hustle with passion. And, in most cases, it’s entirely volunteer work for a while until you have the funds available to hire employees.

Expect to spend 10 to 15 hours per week getting the organization off the ground. If you don’t have that much time to commit, you need some dedicated volunteers to help plus a clear outline of who’s responsible for what.

Who will support you along the way?

Lots of startup nonprofits fail because someone has a passion for starting it but then isn’t able to sustain it over time. Talk to other people in the nonprofit space early in the process to get a full understanding of what it takes to start and run a successful nonprofit. Find an individual or an organization with experience and willingness to mentor you through the process. A mentoring relationship with another organization can be extremely powerful!

Starting a nonprofit is a lot of work, and you need people to support you in the mission. As you identify and recruit board members, be sure you find people who are passionate about the mission and have necessary skills to help the organization succeed.

What’s your strategy to ensure your organization is sustainable?

Every nonprofit organization needs a clear understanding of their vision, mission, and brand. They also need a clear strategic plan for accomplishing the necessary work to fulfill that mission.

While your passion for helping a cause is important, you also need a clear outline of how you plan to do that. It’s necessary for recruiting board members, raising money, and reaching out to the community you plan to help.

Developing a comprehensive strategic plan often requires support from an outside consultant with expertise in the nonprofit space. Which, of course, requires funding. But it’s a worthwhile upfront investment to ensure the long-term sustainability of your organization.

How do you file for 501(c)3 or other nonprofit status?

When it comes to the setup of your organization, you want to ensure it’s set up in a way that’s legal and sustainable. It’s critical that you involve a lawyer in that process, or you could end up with a significant headache somewhere down the road.

Like other steps in starting a nonprofit, the legal filing step takes time and effort. There’s a lot of information required, and you want to ensure all of your answers are positioned the right way for your organization. Answering a question the wrong way could result in a misclassification of your organization, and that’s an expensive error to fix later!

Once you’ve done the work and submitted the application, it can sit on a desk at the IRS for 90 days before they review it and then another 90 days before they respond. So it could take up to six months to obtain 501(c)3 status!

You also need to write bylaws, a conflict of interest policy, and other policies and procedures about how the organization operates as part of your legal setup.

Think you’re ready to take the plunge and start a nonprofit? Contact us to schedule a consultation.

Alexandra Bliss