After finding out what exactly a nonprofit is, and having been really affected by some social issue in your lifetime, let us say you have decided it would be a GREAT idea to start a nonprofit. Maybe the issue at hand is hunger, homelessness, child abuse, health… it could really be a range of issue areas. You know there are many people that could benefit from an organization focusing on your issue area of choice, so this could really be a good way to influence change on a larger scale. Before getting too excited, think about this for a moment – should you really take on starting a new nonprofit organization from scratch??? Are you really prepared to take on the plethora of tasks and responsibilities that come along with starting a nonprofit organization? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before beginning such a task.
Do you want to start a nonprofit organization to become your own boss?
Everyone at one point goes through a phase where they cannot stand “working for the man” and feel like if they were just their own boss, everything would be better (more flexibility, more free time to enjoy life, etc.). If that is your primary reason for wanting to start a nonprofit organization, I would highly recommend that you cease your efforts right now. Starting a nonprofit from scratch requires a LOT of time, work, and up-front efforts on your part. Many times, you just may have to do ALL of this work yourself. There is research to conduct, legal paperwork to complete and file, programs to create, not to mention the money you will need to shell out to become incorporated, registered, etc. So, if you are looking for an easy way to become a “boss,” make your own schedule and all of that jazz… you may want to consider another entrepreneurial idea besides a nonprofit organization. However, if you are extremely passionate about your issue area of choice and potential mission, go for it!
It seems as if everyone that has a new business idea always thinks that from the beginning, nobody else is doing it, or doing it well, because there is still a need within the population that is going unfulfilled. Before you go on believing this to be true, it would be a great idea for you to conduct an asset map within your prospective service area. According to the Orton Family Foundation, asset mapping is “the process by [which] a community inventories its assets and capabilities.” Take the time to identify what other organizations and resources within your geographic area currently exist, or have existed that share a similar vision and mission. Review their operations, who they work with, how they work, how long they have been in existence, etc. All of this information can begin the foundation of nonprofit’s research, and can be used in your business plan (which you will need to eventually create for your prospective nonprofit). Most likely, you will come across similar organizations, community groups, etc. (both large and small) that have a similar idea, focus, and/or component to their pre-existing programming that probably aligns with your nonprofit idea.
When thinking about starting a nonprofit, in the beginning phases, your idea may be pretty broad and general in the grand scheme of things. That is to be expected. But, when you start to dig deeper, is your idea any different, or any more unique than what other nonprofits do in that have a similar mission statement? After conducting an asset map and identifying other organizations that have similarities to your prospective nonprofit’s mission, you may want to take a step back to determine what will make your nonprofit unique. What will be your nonprofit’s niche? Similar to any for-profit business, your nonprofit should identify its niche so that your organization stands out, and is known to be the “go-to” nonprofit for the particular mission and programming that you have in place. In Seven Keys to Finding Your Nonprofit’s Niche, Chris Forbes discusses several issues to think about when deciding what your nonprofit’s niche will be.
- Unique. Make sure that your nonprofit’s niche is not one that many have already tapped into, which could potentially increase your level of competition for funding in the future.
- Reachability. Having a unique focus will mean that you will be serving a somewhat unique population. Keep that in mind when you are trying to determine how you will connect with that population and promote your future programming efforts.
- Substantial. Sure, you may have a unique idea for your nonprofit, but is it too specific to the point where you won’t be able to garner support? Keep this in mind throughout your planning.
- Responsiveness. Your nonprofit organization may be a great sounding idea, but is there anyone else out there that wants to be involved or participate with it?
- Believable. The idea is great, but you are actually knowledgeable in your nonprofit’s issue area? Do you really know how to solve the problem with a new, innovative solution? People have to believe that you know what you’re doing, which will help with making them confident in the path you’re going in with your nonprofit.
- Sustainable Impact. When planning for your nonprofit, think about how you’re going to continue showing your impact to others. Plan for tracking results to show others (prospective funders and partnering organizations) that your nonprofit is in it for the long haul, and has the data to back it up.
- Donor support. Forbes recommends that you “make sure you have the foundation for financial support to get the job done.”
Do you know the basic steps of starting a nonprofit?
If you are still gung-ho about starting a nonprofit organization, then you need to familiarize yourself with the basic steps of starting a nonprofit. It definitely sounds simpler than what it really is. Every state is different in terms of their requirements, so take a moment to conduct your initial research to find out what the specific requirements are for your region. For additional information about starting a nonprofit organization, visit the website for the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Of course, there are many other questions you should ask yourself before embarking on the creation of a new nonprofit organization. With approximately 1.5 million nonprofit organizations that exist within the United States, the sector is saturated. Think before you leap into the nonprofit sector to make sure that your organization will be a success.
Asset Mapping: A Handbook, by Tony Fuller, Denyse Guy, and Carolyn Pletsch
Business Planning: Identifying Your Nonprofit’s Niche, presented by Molly Penn and Deborah Flood of Penn Flood Consulting
Why You Should NOT Start a Nonprofit Organization by Dyci Manns