The news cycle can leave you wondering what you can do to help support victims of natural disasters, domestic violence, illness, or persons with disabilities. With commitment, energy, focus, and planning, it’s possible to make a real difference. But there are several things to consider before starting a non-profit organization.
Create a Mission
Successful non-profit organizations have a well-defined mission communicated in a succinct, powerful way. Can you state why your non-profit should exist in one phrase or sentence? What needs would you address, and how will you do it? How will you define success?
Before taking any steps to start a non-profit organization, define what you want to accomplish, who your efforts will benefit, and how you’ll explain your mission in a brief and powerful statement.
Define Your Scope
It’s rare for a new non-profit to take on a global problem. Remember the adage, “Think globally, act locally.” First, you should define the scope of your proposed non-profit’s activity. Success at the community level may eventually translate to growth and effectiveness on a county, state, or even national or international scale, but starting small helps you gain the experience and support you’ll need to grow when the time is right.
You also must discover if there’s another organization already doing what you propose to do. If another non-profit near you is already addressing the needs you’ve identified, you might have to pivot to another cause. This is one of the most important things to consider before starting a non-profit organization.
Where Will You Find Funding?
Even if you start as a one-person operation, you’ll need funds for supplies, marketing and communications, and programming. Scraping together donations to get started is just that: a start. You’ll have to build a support network of committed donors who will consistently provide financial resources to keep your organization going.
Non-profits require a board of trustees to guide the mission and provide direction and fiscal oversight. You’ll need officers, like a president, treasurer, and secretary, who will be responsible for keeping minutes and records of board meetings and submitting annual reports.
When it’s time to step back from full-scale involvement in running the organization you started, you’ll need to recruit and hire new executive leadership. An executive search requires a unique skill set and a well-developed network. When the need arises, you and your board should weigh important factors relevant to hiring non-profit leaders.
Letting go of the day-to-day operations for the non-profit you created won’t be easy, but it’s a step that signifies success and the prospect that your organization will continue to thrive for years after you retire.
Know Legal Restrictions
Non-profits must seek incorporation at the state level in compliance with state and federal laws. Your mission must fall within the legally defined acceptable areas for non-profits, including educational, scientific, literary, or several other purposes defined in federal tax law.
In addition to complying with all the requirements to apply for non-profit status in your state, you’ll need to address state and federal tax requirements for non-profit organizations.
Seek competent legal advice about how to structure your non-profit and comply with legal requirements. Also, be prepared to create the equivalent of a business plan defining the factors noted above.