So you want to start a non-profit?

31 Mar 2017, Posted by silentimages in Blog, Refocus

My friend who has adopted a child, told me that before someone adopts, he first tells them all of the reasons they should not adopt. Sounds crazy, but he has a reason.

He does this just to make sure they realize the magnitude of the commitment they are about to make.  Of course, he wants more people to adopt, but he also wants to make sure people understand the work and struggles that might be awaiting them.

I often take the same approach when someone asks me if they should start a non-profit organization. I start by challenging them with these statements:

  1. Is someone else already doing the same work? If so, should you just join them or go work for them instead of starting your own?
  1. I understand that you have a passion for _____________. However, do you realize that once you start your non-profit, you will end up spending 50% of your time raising money, 20% managing staff and volunteers, and the other 20% on administrative work. Are you ok with this? This leaves you 10% to spend on homelessness, human trafficking, poverty, education or whatever your passion might be.
  1. The first thing you will need to do is find 3-4 people who will be great board members. They love you and the mission, but they also love you enough to tell you when you are wrong and be the mission keepers of the non-profit.  These people are very difficult to find.
  1. The non-profit world is quite competitive. Just slapping up a website and Pay Pal donation link will probably not gain you much of an audience. You will need to tell your story with excellence and intentionality. Be ready to lean on professionals for this.
  1. Oh, and not to mention that the IRS will send you piles of paperwork to hold you accountable on a regular basis.

Have I gotten you excited yet about starting a non-profit? In all seriousness, once you get past all of this, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. However, you must be willing to answer these five statements with assurance and conviction.  If you pass the “reality check list,” then you can move on to these next 5 steps.

  1. Write your mission. Put it in front of 10 people and get feedback. Make sure you put it in front of people of varying races, ages, gender.
  1. Identify 3-4 people who want to come around you and form a board to hold you accountable. Be sure to select people who are smarter than you, and have a variety of skills sets and experience.
  1. Apply for your 501 c-3 status with the IRS. This can cost about $2,000, so see if you are lucky, you might be able to find kind hearted attorney who will do this for free.
  1. Unless you have extensive experience, do not try to build your website, create your logo, or produce your first video yourself. Be willing to pay professionals to do this.
  1. Now the fun part, fundraise. There are a variety of strategies out there. Just do what feels more comfortable with your personality. People will recognize your genuineness with your approach.

Just as our world desperately needs people to courageously consider adoption, we also need people to start new non-profits to meet all of the needs around us. There are costs to consider to this decision, but I am a true believer that the benefits will outweigh the costs, and our world will be a better place when ordinarily people live lives with selfless ambitions to serve others.

Loving the journey,


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