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Starting a Non Profit Organization

If you are considering starting a nonprofit organization then it's important to review the steps you will need to take to incorporate as a 501 (c) (3) organization. Most nonprofits are formed by an individual or group of individuals that want to address a public or private need. These individuals want to see a problem solved (such as animal rescue or services for poor children), or want to give back to their community in another way (such as city clean up efforts or planting trees).

What is a non-profit Organization? The first step in creating a non-profit organization is to understand what a nonprofit is. A nonprofit is an organization whose primary objective is to address and support an issue of public concern or private interest. There are different kinds of non-profits and Not For Profit World.com focuses on 501(c)(3) corporations, which are exempt from income and (sometimes) property tax. These corporations are able to receive charitable contributions that are tax deductible to a varying extent as determined by law. Once you have confirmed that your idea is valid as a non-profit organization versus a for-profit company, you will want to begin making your mission statement.

Creating A Mission Statement. All nonprofits are created to accomplish a mission and it is imperative that you identify your vision through a mission statement. This is a concise expression that covers in one or two sentences the what, where, and why of your organization. It should outline what you plan to do and where you plan to do it (locally, globally). Your mission statement will be used in all printed materials, for funding requests, and to guide the planning of your organization for many years to come. Mission statements will change throughout the years as your organization grows and changes but it's important to have a clearly defined mission from the start.

Here are just a few examples of well-known mission statements to help you:

"The American Red Cross, a humanitarian organization led by volunteers and guided by its Congressional Charter and the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross Movement, will provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies."

"The mission of The Human Society Of The United States is to create a humane and sustainable world for all animals - a world that will also benefit people. We seek to forge a lasting and comprehensive change in human consciousness of and behavior toward all animals in order to prevent animal cruelty, exploitation, and neglect, and to protect wild habitats and the entire community of life."

Research Similar Nonprofits In Your Service Area. Once your mission statement is clear you should research other organizations within your community that are addressing the same issues. Look for an overlap of services that could affect the sustainability of your organization in your service area.

Form a Board of Directors. Forming a board requires careful thought and extensive recruitment efforts. Each state has regulations that specify the minimum size the board can be (typically three members) but the recommended size of a board is usually between 10 and 12 members. A non-profit just starting out may have a limited number of members until the organization grows and can attract additional members. Visit our Board of Directors page for more information about forming and building better boards.

Consult With An Attorney. It's now time for all the legal aspects of your non-profit to come to fruition. Consult with an attorney who is experienced in the area of nonprofit law to be sure you do not make one of many major mistakes when incorporating or filing articles of incorporation with your state. Your attorney can help you with the paper work and be sure you do not make one of many major mistakes that happen when people try to incorporate themselves.

Create Your Organization's By-Laws. Bylaws are the rules outlining how your organization will operate. By-Laws detail many things for your organization including your mission statement, many board members must sit on your board, term limits, committee details and membership information. Bylaws can be drafted with the help of an attorney and should be approved by your board at your first official board meeting after you have become incorporated.

The Next Steps

Once the basic structure of your organization has been put into place it's time to focus on the daily tasks and who will handle those tasks. The following is a list to review. One word of caution, volunteers are crucial to the success of your organization but many times it's best to leave confidential matters of gifts and giving to board members or paid staff members (if you intend to have any).

As you begin your new organization you will be introduced to some exciting new activities. Plan accordingly to provide adequate volunteer and staff as inadequate resources can lead to overworked, frustrated, and uncooperative participants.

Some basic starting points:

Establish and Maintain A Database of Current and Potential Donors. This is one of the single most important assets of your nonprofit organization. Start out using index cards if necessary, or if someone can create a database using a software program even better. Be sure all information collected, name, address, phone, email, donation information, is kept strictly confidential. Donor lists should NEVER be sold or shared.

Thank You Letters/Correspondence. Someone should be assigned the job of writing thank you letters and taking care of correspondence from the minute you establish your non-profit. Thank you letters are crucial to your success - wonder why? See our section on why thank you letters are importantLetterhead pricing.

Graphic Design and Printing. As your organization develops it will be necessary to prepare professional documents such as business cards, brochures, and special event pieces. Finding a suitable printer with graphic design services will be a necessity. Every community has local printers and there are many online sources that make it convenient to order from any location. Most local printers farm out their full color work so depending on what your needs are online printers can be more cost effective for many projects. Visit our sponsor NotForProfitPrinting.

Volunteer Efforts. From creating a volunteer application to holding volunteer training efforts, your volunteers are critical to your success and need to be effectively trained and managed. Many organizations have a volunteer coordinator while others take a less structured approach by providing monthly or quarterly training sessions and pairing new volunteers with current volunteers. Visit our volunteer section for more information on recruiting and training volunteers.

Most organizations start out with a few supporters and volunteers and expand from there. At the early stages it may not be necessary, or feasible, to hire professional staff. Keep in mind for your organization to succeed you will still need to be managed professionally - even if that means you'll be doing most of the work yourself. Be sure you have carefully thought out what starting a non-profit will mean to you, your volunteers, and your community, and be sure you have the time and financial resources to take the leap. Founding and running a non-profit can be a life-changing experience - one that requires dedication, hard-work and skill. We wish you the best of success!  


 

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