You have a passion for a cause, and feel inspired to start a new nonprofit. That’s wonderful! Now you have quite a to-do list. Once you have done research and determined that a new nonprofit organization is necessary, start by getting expert help on all the legal ins-and-outs of nonprofit law.
For help filling out and filing the mountain of papers at the state and federal levels, make sure you turn to true experts. That doesn’t mean friends who are free! Your next door neighbor just won an award for her skills as a lawyer. However, being “Prosecutor of the Year” doesn’t mean she is qualified to give you advice on nonprofit law.
Traditionally, law schools have not offered courses on nonprofit law. This means most lawyers don’t have training unless they have chosen to specialize in this area of practice (known as the “law of tax-exempt organizations”). Seek help from an attorney or accountant who has direct experience working with nonprofits. You may want to consider contacting your state bar association to see if it maintains a listing of lawyers by specialization, and if so, search for those who specialize in tax-exempt organizations or nonprofit law.
There are over a million charitable nonprofits operating in the United States. Each needs a board of directors, funding to operate, and volunteers/employees to keep its activities going. Is starting a new organization necessary? Have you considered fiscal sponsorship? That option could allow your organization to grow initially under the umbrella of another charitable nonprofit until it’s mature enough to stand on its own.
Just as it “takes a village to raise a child,” it takes much more than a solo founder to keep a nonprofit alive. If the only people excited about this idea are the founder and his or her family members, perhaps this is a good idea for a for-profit rather than a nonprofit. Having lots of people willing to help launch a nonprofit as board members, volunteers, etc. can signal broad community support. Look around to see who supports creating a new nonprofit. RELATED: What Is the Purpose of a Nonprofit Board?
Determine feasibility. Consider the economic climate and funding needs for the organization. Develop a detailed business plan, considering all aspects of the proposed plan. These include mission, organizational structure, 3-year budget, marketing plan, and resource development / fundraising. Consider potential community partnerships, and the skills needed for volunteer and paid staff.
This may be the most important question, and the answer depends on your business plan. If the organization can achieve its mission in less than three years, it should be a program housed at an existing organization.
Starting a nonprofit is not an endeavor to be taken lightly. However, if you have the passion and the community support, it can be a rewarding experience. Follow these tips to get started on the right foot, and best of luck!
To learn more about starting a Nonprofit board, watch our webinar titled Start a Nonprofit Board from Scratch.
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