According to Donorbox, the nonprofit sector is the third-largest employer in the United States. Tie that with the fact that many nonprofit organizations are started because the founder had a personal connection to the cause, and you have an opportunity to seriously make an impact in this space.
For those who are completely new to starting a nonprofit, it can be an exhilarating yet overwhelming process. What do you need to know? Who do you need to speak with? How can you be successful? Those are likely just a few questions running through your mind.
We chatted with 10 professionals in the nonprofit sector to share their top tips of what you need to know when diving into the process for yourself. Check out what they had to say.
The success of every nonprofit goes back to its mission and its “why,” as Bridging Independent Living Together, Inc.’s Founder and CEO Christina Gravina suggests.
“In order to have a successful nonprofit organization you need to have strong leadership, compassionate employees/volunteers, and a mission that is making a true difference in the world. The mission of the organization needs to stay relevant throughout growth and be re-visited frequently to ensure all parts of the organization are aligning. Your mission should be something that you believe in but it’s just as important as ensuring your mission is able to get those outside the organization to believe it in as well.”
Set up a good leadership, pair it with a great mission, and you’ll be on the right track.
As mentioned earlier, the reasons for founding for many nonprofits stems from a personal experience someone had. Although it’s wonderful to tie in an intimate cause, the nonprofit should focus on solving a problem for a larger demographic at hand, as Melissa Pond explains.
“Be really clear about the problem you intend to solve, who should be at the table to help solve the problem, and collect data to support your needs statement.”
Having data that can support the success of the problem you’ll be solving is crucial for propelling the nonprofit organization forward.
Every long-lasting nonprofit has the right people behind them to help make their vision a reality.
“If you are starting a non-profit, make sure that you have a knowledgeable CPA to help steer you through the various forms and documents,” says Gregg Cohen, founder of College Affordable. “The requirements are significant and doing it right will take substantial time but in the end, it will streamline the long IRS approval process.”
Taking the time to do things correctly right off the bat will save you even more time in the long run.
What does Jonathan Grabowski, Executive Director of Marshfield Community Media, recommend? Run your nonprofit like a for-profit business.
“I’ve come across a lot of non profit organizations where great people had great intentions but failed because they didn’t follow basic business principles like developing and executing a business plan, financial checks and balances and recruiting and developing a board of directors who are committed to the mission of the organization.”
By incorporating the strong foundation that for-profit businesses have, your nonprofit will be able to soar.
You know what they say: it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know. Donna Criscuolo, Executive Director of Leadership SouthCoast, emphasizes the importance of building relationships.
“You need to be the Chief Relationship Officer of your nonprofit. This means constantly cultivating strong ties to those in your community through networking, attending community events, one on one meetings, and conversations, newsletters and even your social media,” Donna explains. “Cultivating strong relationships gives you credibility, access to resources, ambassadors for your cause and helps you to navigate obstacles when needed. My relationships are my professional equity, without which I would have a hard time moving the needle and serving the mission of my organization.”
Don’t forget that networking and building relationships goes both ways. Tap into your connections when you need them, but be sure to support them as well.
“It is important that your network knows they can count on you when they are in need. It is a 2-way street. The stronger your relationships, the more likely you will achieve success,” says Donna.
Lean on the people around you, but let them know that they can lean on you, too.
Starting and running a nonprofit isn’t easy work, which is why you absolutely need to feel passionate about the work you’re doing.
“The mission of the organization has to be one that you fully support and are passionate about. Nonprofit work (especially from the ground up) is hard work,” mentions Erin Cohen, Director of Development at Road to Responsibility, Inc. “Starting a nonprofit won’t make you rich financially, but as you advance the mission of the organization that you are truly passionate about, it’s all worth it!”
Additionally, passion can inspire other people to support you. Molly Urban, founder of The Jack Richard Urban Foundation says, “That same passion will draw others to your cause which will lead to more support, more awareness and more funds.”
On the days where running your organization feels tougher than usual, your passion will get you through it.
With so many legal intricacies that go into starting a nonprofit, having an attorney who can direct you through the process is key.
“It can be complex and there are many nuisances that go into the process: such things as reviewing governance, drafting by-laws, reviewing plans for charitable & fundraising activities to ensure you are in compliance with IRS guidelines,” says Kristen Woods. “It is a process that requires patience and lots of review between the party attempting to form a non-profit and an attorney. I will say it is beyond satisfying when you receive official notice and you can begin to watch the success of your newly founded organization.”
A Board of Directors play a monumental role in moving a nonprofit forward, between their connections and expertise. As Julie Williams, Vice President of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, suggests, select your board of directors right from the start!
“Recruiting a Board of diverse backgrounds, expertise, skills, and opinions will make a positive difference in achieving your mission and goals. You want Board members that are not only passionate about the organization’s mission, but you want each person to bring something unique to the table,” explains Julie. “Do not take this task lightly.”
Who should make up your board? “Ideally, you have a mix of strategic thinkers, achievers, and well-connected representatives in the community. These traits will drive awareness, fundraising, and effective operations for any nonprofit, especially a newly launched one.”
A well-rounded Board of Directors can help you move the needle within your organization.
Purchasing constituent relationship management (CRM) software from the beginning can prevent you from needing to record a lot of data later on.
Erin Cunha, Fundraising Consultant at Pear Associates, recommends, “Create a policy and procedure manual for maintaining the CRM to ensure data integrity and record everything! Donor background information and donation data is vital to reporting benchmarks and building relationships with donors to move through the fundraising cycle of identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. It is also helpful when recognizing the founding supporters during milestone celebrations.”
If you’d like to know how your organization is performing and keep tabs on all of your donors, a CRM is the way to go.
Remember that you never have to be alone when it comes to embarking on this exciting journey. Consulting with professionals who can point you in the right direction is the difference between a nonprofit that quickly takes off and a nonprofit that can barely get off the ground.