If you have been an active member of your community for a few years, chances are you see the services and places that could be improved with a little hard work, love, and dedication. Maybe you’re a consummate volunteer looking to take your work to the next level with a creative new idea, or you might see an emerging need in your community that you think you might be able to address. Whatever your reason, you might be considering starting a nonprofit but you also might be hesitant because you’re not sure where to begin. Here’s a list of things you should consider before you decide to get started:
1. Assess the Need
Whether you hope to provide food for the homeless or afterschool programs for at-risk youth, make sure you have a full understanding of both the demographic you hope to serve and the current services available in your community. By clearly understanding your target demographic's needs, you put yourself in a better position to help them long term; by considering other local services available to your target demographic, you can be sure you’re not duplicating efforts. Speak to local community leaders, nonprofit organizers, and members of the community you want to help to get a full understanding of the situation on the ground.
2. Make a Mission Statement
Expressing the core values of your organization—both to those you wish to help and to potential donors—is key to growing a successful nonprofit organization. Draft your mission statement with your long-term goals for your nonprofit in mind. Who are you helping? How will you help them? In what ways can the community expect your organization to help? Once your mission is clear, it will be a guiding principle for every decision your organization makes in the future, so make sure it’s solid.
3. Write a Business Plan
You should treat your new nonprofit as a serious business from day one. Writing a business plan will help you focus your mission and better serve your community. Take the time to perform a needs analysis for the demographic you hope to serve; carefully run the numbers for your costs (including rent, program costs, staff, etc.) and see how much you’ll need to cover with grants, donations, and other funding. Starting with a realistic financial picture can help you make better choices as you move forward.
4. Form Your Board
Your Board is your organization’s leadership and the people making the top-level policy decisions. It should be carefully selected to capitalize on the strengths of each member. When initially forming your Board, try to find individuals that support your cause and come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including banking, management, nonprofits, local business and faith leaders. It might also be wise to include members of the community you hope to serve through your work, as they can offer invaluable experience and information about the community at large. Keep in mind that your Board will have legal responsibilities related to the management of your organization, and that the process of training and finding new Board members is an ever-evolving process.
5. Find and Keep Donors and Volunteers
The best way to secure funding from donors and help from volunteers is to have a transparent, reliable nonprofit that’s established in your community. Most people are more willing to give their time and money to an organization that has a proven track record of success. If you’re struggling to find consistent donors, it might be time for your Board to discuss events or marketing initiatives that can raise awareness for your cause. Enlist your Board, volunteers, and community members to help tell your story. The most compelling stories come from those that have been directly impacted by the good work your organization is doing.
You can also apply for grants from both government and private entities. If you don’t have experience writing grants, the American Grant Writers’ Association offers accredited online courses in grant writing that could be of help to you. If you’re not game for writing grants yourself, many experienced grant writers are willing to work on a contract basis for nonprofits. Keep in mind that the process for writing government grants is very different from the process of writing grants for private foundations, so you may need to educate yourself or hire a professional to suit your specific needs. Fundraising is never easy, but a positive outlook and a powerful story will help your nonprofit succeed.
Starting a nonprofit is an incredible experience that is both rewarding and challenging. While it can be difficult to set up a new nonprofit and secure long-term funding, the positive feelings of contributing to your local community and working toward the improvement of society can carry you through to your dream of starting a nonprofit.