The decision to start a nonprofit organization should not be taken lightly. How do you know whether you should dive in or continue to support the cause from afar? Between 2003 and 2013, 501(c)3 organizations increased by 29%, but on average every year less than 3% of nonprofits make it to their 5-year anniversary. That is not due to lack of passion. It is a lack of preparation for what it really takes start and sustain an organization for long-term success.

  • Figure out why you want to start a nonprofit. Do you want to support a cause or start a business? A nonprofit organization is a legal entity, requiring filings with the federal and state governments, bylaws for governance, a business plan, and more. You can support a cause without creating an organization from scratch. Fiscal sponsorship or collaborative partnerships might be the way to go if any of the following items make you wince.
  • Are you ready to organize and nurture a board of directors? It is a lot more work than running a board meeting once in a while. Yes, surrounding yourself with a group invested in same cause can be exciting. As you enjoy that excitement you need to be ready to recruit, educate, engage, inspire, mediate, organize, and listen on a continuous basis. Did I mention you, as the leader, may report to the Board as well?
  • Find a fundraising hat. As the leader you need to be comfortable asking for money and support. You need to be the main ambassador round-the-clock and rally help for your organization. If this is your first experience with fundraising, you at least need to be open to faking that confidence until you find your fundraising hat. Do you know the accounting/tax practices for fundraising? Look for that hat too.
  • Admit to yourself you will have competition. Your organization is probably not the only one addressing this cause or societal issue. Do your research! Get to know the other organizations out there with similar missions and other nonprofits in your area competing for the same donors or funding opportunities. Then, find a way to make your organization stand out. Messaging your unique take on the cause will be key. Do you play nice in the sandbox when money is on the line?
  • You need more than a yard sign. How will you make sure the world knows your organization and the unique approach it brings to the table? Create a launch and marketing plan to get the word out. You started an organization to help people but you will not be able to do that unless potential clients know you exist and donors know how to show their support. Find a marketing guru and latch on.
  • Be ready to dial the plumber. As the leader you will be the contact for big decisions and all the little ones in between. It all comes down to you, no matter how strong of a board you build. Sometimes being the go-to person means saying no or making unpopular decisions for the betterment of the organization. You are the one they will call at 2am when there is a plumbing issue or the like. Do you want to deal with those calls?
  • In a sue-happy society you need to protect yourself. Research liability insurance. If you do not secure the proper protection not only will your organization’s assets be at risk, your personal assets will be at risk as well. Now that’s a sacrifice.

For more help sorting out the right path for your passion, please contact Ivy Schneider, President of Helix Strategies, LLC at ivy@helixllc.org and check out www.helixllc.org for information about raising funds and developing your boards and leaders.