Starting a non-profit might seem like a grandiose goal, but some of the biggest organizations today had some very humble beginnings. Since you have no pressure to perform, a non-profit can be as small or big as you wish, and you can start one from your living room if you like. It is still an organization, and that means that you have to plan carefully before you start. You also need to know some of the legal requirements. Here’s how anybody can start a non-profit organization.
Know if It’s the Right Choice for You
The first thing you have to assess is if you should start a non-profit organization in the first place. Some may be only in it for the grants. That’s a very bad idea since only a tiny fraction of non-profits qualify for those. There are also other ways that you can give back.
While anyone can start a non-profit, few succeed. Out of all non-profit startups, it’s estimated that less than 50% make it past the first 5 years, and of those, many are in financial distress. There might be other ways that you could help your community while essentially running a non-profit without running one, so look at alternatives.
Build a Foundation
The core of your non-profit will be your mission statement. It should communicate your organization’s purpose, who you’re trying to serve, and how you intend to serve them.
You should also draft a business plan. Even if you’re a non-profit, you’ll have to deal with things like marketing, expansion, recruitment, etc. So, if you have zero business acumen, you might end up struggling as a non-profit owner, even if you have the purest of intentions.
You will also need to develop a governing board and look at incorporating your non-profit. This will legitimize it and protect you, your officers, and your directors from liability issues. If you want to know how to start, check out this list of state non-profit startup resources.
Note that you will also have to do things such as applying for tax-exempt status with the IRS and have to worry about ongoing compliance as well, so that is something you will have to discuss with a legal professional that is familiar with non-profits.
Start Devising Donor Strategies
As a non-profit, one of your biggest challenges will be not only to find but retain donors. Donor retention rates are dropping across the board, and you will have to start thinking about this now if you want to build a solid base.
You will need to make sure that their first experience with you is a good one, and look at things like donor membership programs. You also have to find a way for them to connect with the people they help. You could do this through thank you cards, for instance.
Donor gifts are another great way to boost retention. Fundraising Brick has a blog post on donor gifts if you need more ideas and information.
This is all you need to know if you want to start a non-profit. Having a passion for helping is one thing, but you also have to be ready to run this like a business, so make sure you’re up for the challenge.