So, You Want to Start a Nonprofit Organization?
I asked myself this same question over five years ago now! I actually talked myself out of it for almost two years simply because I didn't see how it was possible as a single mother going to school full-time, helping him with homework, and taking him to and from various sporting activities. There was no way I could add running a business to my plate! Well, God had another plan and said yes, you can. To make a long story short, I reached out to a lawyer friend and expressed my desire to start a nonprofit that helped single parents provide basic needs for their children to return to school each year. My why: I too struggled. I had to decide whether I was to buy food or school supplies when it was time to send my son to kindergarten. My lawyer friend graciously prepared the legal paperwork and filed with the state and IT TAKES TWO, INC was incorporated in February 2012!
I share the condensed version of my story to tell you that you can do it as well. There may be some fear and doubt about stepping into unfamiliar waters, but I encourage to take the leap of faith and take action that will turn that passion into a cause – into a movement that is best achieved as a nonprofit entity.
Here are just a few steps to get started:
Conceptualize your mission – answer the who, why, and how. WHO will your serve? WHY is your service needed? HOW will you serve your population to create impact? The answers to these questions will help formulate your mission and vision statements. This process can also help with brainstorming your business name.
Decide on a business name – make it catchy but not spammy. You want people to identify with your cause as well as easily stand out in their minds. This will be important in building your brand. Make a list of names and defer to your friends and family for feedback. Search the web to see if the name is already being used. If so, see how you can make it your own or decide on another name. Be sure to also reasearch the name on the Secretary of State's site. Once you decide, go to Go Daddy to purchase your domain name. To secure your business name, purchase .com and .net in addition to .org. You have the option of registering your business name as a trademark with your Secretary of State’s office (may vary by state). Note – this is not a requirement nor something that needs to be handled at this point, but you can always come back to it later. You should, however, trademark your business name and logo with the Patent and Trademark Office to officially register and protect your brand.
Apply for your Employer Identification Number (EIN) – now that you have your business name you can apply for your federal EIN! Visit the IRS website to begin the application process. Here is some additional information to check out before applying.
Inquire about a business bank account – your business name and EIN are all you need to start searching for a business bank account. Be sure to let the bank representative know that you are opening an account for a nonprofit organization as there is a slightly different process from a for profit business account. Be prepared to provide your legal documentation: Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and IRS 501(c)(3) determination letter as proof of your charity status. Be sure to ask for complete details.
Get Legal! – You will need to find a lawyer or professional qualified nonprofit consultant to assist with creating and filing your Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, Conflict of Interest policy, and 501c3 application (1023EZ or Form 1023). Check within your circle to see if you have lawyers or perhaps someone you know who can refer a lawyer to assist. If not, the Foundation Center provides information on legal resources. You can find this information, along with much more on nonprofit start-ups by clicking here.
Think About Your Board of Directors and Executive Officers. Make a list.– As you search for a lawyer or for more information on getting legal, begin thinking about individuals to serve on your Board of Directors and hold executive positions within your organization (President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer). The Board of Directors is the governing body of your organization. Among many other roles, primary responsibilities include “discussing and voting on the highest priority issues, setting organizational policies, and hiring and evaluating key staff” (Foundation Center, 2014, para 1). They are also responsible for being fiscally responsible while moving the organization in the right direction to fulfill the mission through strategic programs and activities to a point of sustainability. In choosing these individuals, it is important that they understand the expectations and vice versa. So, be prudent in your decision-making. Here is a great starting point to learn more about board selection.
Starting a nonprofit is a major decision and requires a clear mission, proper planning, and a team. Once launched, operating and growing the organization should be the only focus.