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So....You Want to Start a Non-Profit Organization

Updated on January 27, 2013
There's more to starting a nonprofit that obtaining a 501 (c) 3
There's more to starting a nonprofit that obtaining a 501 (c) 3

As a professional grant writer, I often receive calls from individuals who are considering starting a non-profit organization. Although the majority of inquiries are from people who have a genuine concern or passion for a particular need within their respective communities; the frightening calls are from individuals who seem to think starting a non-profit organization provides them with the ideal opportunity to avoid paying taxes.

A huge misconception is the perception that non-profit status (typically a 501 c 3) will result in a lot of money dispersed your way to support your project, program, capital or staff expenses. The fact remains that most non-profit organizations struggle financially and are always on a quest to secure the necessary funding to ensure that their projects or programs can either be implemented or continued.

Most non-profit organizations spend hours submitting grant funding applications, requesting donations, hosting fundraising events, learning about and encouraging planned giving and engaging in extensive networking opportunities to build business relationships.

Important steps to consider before downloading IRS Form 1023 and applying for non-profit status:

  • Become a volunteer for a non-profit organization FIRST; you cannot manage what you do not know.
  • Set up meetings with several existing non-profit organizations to learn about the challenges they face and the state of the economic climate in the geographic area you are considering.
  • Develop a business plan, just as you would with a for-profit business.
  • What is the need, target audience and how many people will be served?
  • What staffing will be required?
  • Where will the organization be located?
  • Have you already garnered support for willing board member participation?
  • Do you understand the non-profit legal requirements, documentation and expectations?
  • Have you outlined your funding resource strategy?
  • How will you actively recruit volunteers and supporters?
  • What anticipated outcomes will result from this new organization? (What changes will be evident in the lives of those served by the addition of this non-profit organization?)
  • Are there other organizations in the area providing a similar service, and if so, what is the reason for starting a new organization rather than partnering with the existing one?

Once the above factors have been carefully considered, it is always best to consult the expertise of a qualified attorney or CPA to assist you with the required paperwork.

Obviously, this article cannot cover everything that should be considered before starting a non-profit organization, but it is a brief synopsis. Once you have acquired your non-profit status, keep in mind:

Successful operation of a non-profit organization must be passion driven and above reproach in integrity.

Ethics are critical, once breached the damage can be irrevocable resulting in the demise of an entire organization.

It is imperative that all employees and volunteers recognize that they represent your organization 24/7; improper behavior is a reflection upon the organization and can not be tolerated.

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