Many people want to put their passion to work by serving others. You might want to channel that passion into a specific effort that helps others through nonprofit work. In part one of this series, I shared some of the important tasks central to starting a nonprofit. Specifically, bring in key players to help determine your organization’s mission. Those key players might be an already established partner organization or a diverse group of advisors formed from contacts and resources within the community. Here is the next step:
Carve your role: After you establish your mission, it is important to think about what your role in the organization is going to be. Do you plan to be paid as the Executive Director or perform some other leadership role? If so, you might not want to sit on the Board of Directors as well. Your board serves an important role in providing direction and oversight in the operation of your organization so it is important that “paid” staff serve independent of the board when possible. Roger and I formed CJSTUF and serve as (currently unpaid) staff; however, we rely on the talents and leadership from our board to keep us on the straight and narrow. If it were up to me, I would give away all the money we have within each fiscal year, providing funds to any family that asks for support. Our board is tasked with creating a strategic plan that makes the foundation sustainable, even when the economic outlook is not so good. For that reason, neither Roger nor I hold a voting position on the board.
Get your ducks in a row: As I mentioned previously, starting a nonprofit is like starting a business. In addition to filing with the IRS for nonprofit status, you need to file with the state for incorporation, apply with each state in which you solicit charitable donations, develop all of your startup documents such as bylaws, confidentiality statements, a conflict of interest policy, policies and procedures, fiscal policies, whistleblower policies, liability insurance, and background checks (if applicable). Whew! That’s just a starting list. Board Source offers a great resource on the Principles of Good Governance that can help guide you through the process as you get started. Every year, many nonprofits get their 501(c)3 status revoked for not following through on some of these state, federal, or general good practice guidelines.
Another great local source is Nonprofit Learning Point. This educational arm of the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence provides excellent courses in nonprofit management. The schedule is flexible, the classes are affordable ($45 per class) and you can take courses in topics such as basic budgeting, grant writing, organizational management, and leadership. I am a little more than halfway towards earning my certificate in Nonprofit Management and I highly recommend the program.
Dive in and give 100%: Establishing yourself as a nonprofit is just the beginning. Just like running a business, you will never stop working to establish and sustain your mission. Running a nonprofit involves endless rounds of publicity, marketing, events, and fundraisers. In the first few years, it might take some time to determine your best strategy but even the most established organizations work nonstop to continue their mission and grow within their community.
In the end, starting a nonprofit is exciting, rewarding, and exhausting. If you find that it is the right path for launching your passion, I wish you every success. It is amazing the power that we, as individuals, can have on our community, especially when we band together with others for a common cause.