Wondering how to found a non-profit? Starting a charity is just like anything… it takes time, patience and in order to succeed you must truly invest your entire heart into it. Starting a successful charity isn’t an overnight thing, it’s a non-stop time sacrifice that could take years to come to fruition, however it’s a sacrifice you are passionate about, which makes it fulfilling, exciting and fun to do.
I have been lucky enough to help a few friends start non-profits after they saw all of the work www.cysfoundation.org as done! This article will walk through some great first steps to starting a 5013c charity so that you can found a charity and make a dream come true!
If I had one piece of advice it is advice I give often, words I first heard from my friend Stronz… “how do you eat an elephant?” Well the answer is, “one bite at a time.” You aren’t going to create any type of successful business tomorrow or maybe even in a year. All businesses take time and that’s especially true with a non-profit… since you know… you are doing it for free.
“It’s not how much we give, it’s how much love we put into giving”
– Mother Theresa
To start I will go with more ideation of how to start the charity, tips and the overarching mindset you need to have when launching a nonprofit. At the end I have the meat and potatoes steps on what you need to do to actually register & launch the charity so if you don’t want tips or ideas then scroll to the bottom :).
A few important overall notes right from the start:
- As mentioned you MUST do it because you love it. Not for anything else, not for profit, to make it a career where you get paid, or anything else other than it is one of the top reasons for your heart beating.
- People will always tell you how great your idea is and how much they want to help… until you ask them for money/donations/help… be prepared.
- Maybe the best advice I could give is to just start doing it. Whatever your goal or mission is… do it. Don’t worry about the paperwork yet. Do it first and get through those kinks, make sure you love it and make sure it makes sense before you spend all the money to make it a true 5013c or register it with the state.
- It is harder to start a nonprofit than a for profit company so if you don’t think you could start an actual company… be safe and don’t spend a ton of money getting it going before beta testing.
There are 21,000+ registered nonprofits in Arizona and over 1.5 million in the USA… many of those are just registered in name and don’t actually do anything. Thus, start living your mission/goal/idea before anything else to make sure you will actually stick with it before spending money to execute.
Sites and people out there say to start a charity first, you need a name, a mission statement, then you need a logo, then a website, then pick a board, then fundraise… then begin operations. No… like I said, first and foremost just start doing it. Truly practice whatever it is you want your charity to do as a hobby so that you can get consistent doing it, schedule it into your current time and get structured.
If you try all at once to create a logo, website, file for paperwork, organize fundraising and execute your mission… well it might be pretty overwhelming and you may never even start. Thus, just start doing and living your mission as your “foundation” for the business and from there slowly add the doors, windows and extra floors. No need to do it all at once, slowly build it on your own time but be consistent and if you truly want to do it or love it, you will do it.
As mentioned you think you have the best idea and when it’s time to fund it… no one is around. Hopefully you have some money saved up or a few good friends can help you to start your process. You will need anywhere from $2-5,000 to get it started. I have some info below on cost breakouts and I stress don’t go spending money on t-shirts and nonsense until you get the foundation of your charity up and running.
How Much Does It Cost to Start A Charity?
- 5013c Application – $750 or $400+ for the EZ version of the application.
- Legal representation for documents you need. $500+ for online companies like Legal Zoom or $2,000+ for an actual lawyer.
- State Incorporation Fee – $40
- Publishing of incorporation – $200+
- Website – $2,000+ – Not necessary at the start but adds legitimacy and will need if you ever want to apply for grants or if you start doing corporate requests.
Leverage Your Network
Hopefully you can use your job or network to leverage you charity’s goals. In my instance I was a Director of Events for an entertainment company so was able to use my job to provide tickets, food and leverage our company assets to do toy drives etc. Right there I was able to dip my toe into the world without spending a dime, even though my charity wasn’t “official” as of yet.
Social media can be annoying but it also can be a great place for you to reach out to people about your cause and see who might be interested in joining. I was lucky enough to have a large-ish work and social network thus I was able to use my “influence” into something positive. Everyone wants to help people who are trying to do something positive for the world so talk to everyone about it and you will also find some random helpers who are diamonds in the rough.
For overall tips to be successful checkout 13 Ways to Be A Successful Entrepreneur
This is the toughest part of the charity for as I mentioned, everyone wants to help until they actually need to get their pocket books out. I would keep it as simple as possible to start and really just grow at scale vs. try to throw some huge event and maybe do it poorly.
FRIENDS & NETWORK
Starting with a crowdfunding can be a perfect way to start, whether it is through gofundme or even on Facebook. With that said, you will want to have a body of work for stuff you have done in the past before asking people for money just because you have an idea. Facebook also requires you to be a legitimate 5013c before you can go that route.
While you are beta testing your idea tell everyone about it, gauge their interest and try to get them involved. You never know when someone might donate $50, $100 or more. I was lucky enough to have a friend who helped launch it and paid for most of the legal fees… while not all friends will help there will be some people out there who blow you away.
K.I.S.S. and H.T.E.A.Elephant methods. You don’t need to throw a gala with 200 people out of the gates. As mentioned start low and scale it up, not to mention you will learn a ton from the start so any small mishaps or things you forget are easily hidden vs. if you try to do something huge. Better to have small growing pains vs. fall flat on your face spending thousands and jumping the gun.
I started first with a small dinner, then it grew to a party with 75 people and then 100+ at bowling tournaments, christmas dinners etc. Steal my idea and do your first one on your birthday… two birds with one stone. It also gives people two reasons to come and you will feel great making your birthday about helping others. Throwing a Christmas event is also a no-brainer as people want to go to events around the holidays and donate. With that said, that time of year is overly saturated with events so get out early and make sure it has some cache.
Try to make the cost of whatever your fundraiser is under $25-40. Depending how much money your friends and network has… they won’t want to spend more than $50 and maybe $75 on an event that isn’t something huge. In the end silent auctions is where you probably will make most of your donations.
Do you want a surefire way to get silent auction items with an example template? Write in the comments below and leave your info.
Workplace Donation Matching
A lot of employers will match time you volunteer in a monetary donation or match any donation you give to a nonprofit up to a certain amount of dollars. Again, maybe this is where you utilize your current workplace resources or reach out to friends who might have something similar. There have been a couple of times where people have sent us a random $500 check out of the blue!
This truly is the goal. Getting in with a large business. The larger you grow and the more legitimacy you have the more larger business will want to work with you. Companies love to help out and it also behooves them financially, so get out there and network.
This isn’t something you might be able to do out of the gates. However, once you have raised enough capital to do some marketing, the best marketing you can do is rewarding your existing donors and clients. The easiest things to do are make collages and frame them for your donors per below. Also give out your charity shirts to them or make small thank you plaques. If you are good to them, they will tell their friends and you will grow even more from there!
If you want to really go far in any business, you need to get better at public speaking. I am TERRIFIED of public speaking, I get sweaty and nervous as hell but end up pulling it together. I am like a duck on a pond; on the top you see it calm floating around the water but underneath my legs are moving a million miles a minute.
In Warren Buffet’s office he has one school’s certificate hanging on the wall. He doesn’t have his degree or his Master’s from Columbia hanging but he has his certificate from the Dale Carnegie public speaking training up for people to see. It was his greatest weakness and he mentions it as maybe the most important “degree” he has.
The best way to improve, like with anything, is to practice and struggle. As with most learning experiences, one of my biggest learnings was when I fell flat on my face the first time I took the stage to speak to people about my charity. I literally froze… fuck it was the worst and I will never forget it to this day. I learned some valuable lessons from that point on and one of them was to triple prepare and practice more than I think I should.
“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”
– Winston Churchill
Steps To Setting Up Your Charity
I sort of covered the steps along the way but here is a checklist on things to do to get your charity legit and rolling off the ground. Like I mentioned above, beta test and make sure this is something you want to do and will stick with. Try for a year as you slowly build up the backend proceeding to the action items and steps below once you know you are ready to move forward.
- Develop your mission statement.
- This is just 2-3 sentences that summarize your vision and what your nonprofit will do. This is something you can start thinking about while beta testing your charity so that when it comes time to launch in 6-12 months, you will have changed this mission statement 100x but now be in love with how it sounds.
- Name your nonprofit
- Again, this is something you will develop over time, getting input from friends, doing a survey on social media or something may just scream out to you that you love. Try to be sure it is original, clean and simple enough.
- Find 2-4 Directors of The Board
- Before I give you the generic answer below, to be honest I added a few board members who were friends that supported me and I just did everything and they nodded their heads. It was my vision and I was on the right path so it was better to have less cooks in the kitchen and just go out and run it how I wanted with getting their help when needed kinda thing.
- Start with 2-4 people who ideally are influential or can do things to help you run the charity that you are not good at. Whether it is accounting, organization, social media or marketing. Try to have a well rounded board to make it as easy as you as possible.
- Now, ideally some day you want 20+ of these who all have an amazing influence in your area to bring more people to your charity but to start off have less cooks in the kitchen as I mentioned or you might not get anything done.
- File your State’s paperwork – becoming a legal nonprofit in your state.
- This includes incorporation with your city and state & your state’s corporate commission.
- It includes a ton of necessary legal documents a lawyer can help you with including; Policy, Conflict Of Interest, Articles of Incorporation, Policy Whistle Blower, Policy Record Retention, Policy, Travel & Expenses; Policy, Compensation; and Bylaws.
- File Federally via a 5013c
- This is tedious and extremely imposing. However, answer everything to the best of your ability and ideally a lot of the info you need will also already have been done in your state’s paperwork.
- Your lawyer or an online company like Legal Zoom can do it but honestly you can probably do it yourself.
- I did it myself and someone from the IRS emailed me with a ton of important questions. I called her, she was extremely helpful and I wrote back my answers, which were not rocket science answers, and she ended up approving it.
- Set Your Calendar
- Try to do 1-2 signature fundraisers each year, again start small and grow.
- Try to do 2 signature nonprofit events each year, same thing as above, no need to rush and just grow year over year. While you may have 1-2 major nonprofit events, of course you can do small stuff here and there that doesn’t eat up a ton of your time.
- Hold Annual Meetings
- You must have minutes for all meetings and everything you do. All meetings you have whether annually, monthly or quarterly need to be tracked and written down. If you would like examples on how to keep minutes leave a comment below.