Launching a charitable organization is extremely rewarding. Launching one that’s successful for years to come takes dedication and planning. When you have that great idea for a nonprofit that you can’t let go of, it’s easy to channel the passion for making a difference into action that turns your dream into a reality. If you’d like to start a nonprofit, these are the steps you should follow to get up and running.
Carry Out a Needs Analysis
Creating a nonprofit that truly helps fulfill a need won’t be easy. There are already 1.5 million nonprofits in the US alone. The first thing you need to do is check whether there are other organizations accomplishing your mission (especially if they’re in your area). A needs analysis involves verifying that there is indeed a market for your organization. Then identify who your target demographic is. Finally, make sure your idea is unique in some way. Good places to start are to conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and do market research. Speak with/survey the people who you will actually be serving to get an idea for what they truly need.
Determine the Name and Mission Statement
Choosing your nonprofit’s name is exciting. However, possibly more difficult than you originally thought. Remember that there are over one million nonprofits in this country. You’ll need to make sure no other organizations or even for-profit businesses are already using the name you’ve had in your head. You don’t want to end up competing for visibility or fielding questions from confused volunteers and donors. The name also has to be finalized before you incorporate your nonprofit and file official paperwork.
It’s worth it to spend a lot of time developing your name and logo. They bring you pride and can carry you forward into writing your mission statement. Best practices of writing mission statements include: keeping it short, ensuring you’re distinguished from other nonprofits, and communicating in clear, concise language. A solid, catchy, unique name and intriguing or inspiring mission statement will also help you establish a donor base. This, in turn, helps you to create a fundraising plan. That plan will determine the necessary resources for your organization.
Create a Board of Trustees/Directors
Every state in the U.S. requires that nonprofits contain a board of directors. This board will also play an essential role in helping to get your nonprofit off the ground. They can help you take initial steps toward making your organization official. Each will take on their own responsibilities and help establish liability. In most places, just one person is enough for your board, but some states require up to three people.
You can follow this guide from the National Council of Nonprofits to help you select who you want on your board. Choose carefully! A board of trustees will steer your nonprofit into its future. Not only do they determine legal and ethical financial management and governance policies, but they’ll also ensure your organization has enough resources to achieve its mission.
Once you have your board of trustees in place, a nonprofit business plan is complete, and you have incorporation and 501(c)3 status paperwork filed, you can move on to building your staff. Many nonprofits start out with hiring volunteers.
Begin by organizing a description of the roles you need to fill. Then determine how many hours per week you think it’ll require. Get the word out about your opportunity through advertisements in local newspapers, job boards, or online services such as volunteermatch.org. If the role requires a fair amount of previous knowledge or skills, you can invite people to complete an initial project or shift before bringing them fully on board. Many nonprofits depend on their volunteers to thrive. Once it becomes appropriate to hire part-time or full-time paid staff, you can begin to consider hiring your first employees.
Remember Your Mission
As your organization gets off the ground and finds success, make it a point to continually check-in and make sure things are aligning with both your business plan and mission statement. Even though you and your employees have surely worked hard to bring the mission to life and make an impact, it doesn’t hurt to take a step back. Consider whether your mission is indeed at the forefront of everything you do.
Keep in mind what exact impact you set out to make. Is it at the forefront of every hiring, financial, and service decision you make? Or are there further steps you could take? Set milestones to hit so you can not only keep things on track but give your staff (and yourself) something to celebrate. This is also a great way to discover whether you’re not meeting your goals, and you can recalibrate.
Sticking to your plan, establishing a great board of directors, and remembering your mission will guide you as you start a nonprofit. Each step above is a useful tool that will get you up and running in the right direction so your nonprofit is successful years into the future.
Written by Laura Myers