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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Starting a Nonprofit: More Than Just a Mission Statement

“I’m going to start a nonprofit.” 

It’s a simple statement, but there’s a significant amount of weight (and work!) behind those words. It isn’t as easy as being passionate about a cause, creating a catchy name, and designing the perfect website. We often forget that nonprofits are essentially businesses. And, a business requires funding and an innovative long-term plan to be able to sustain itself.

To get started there is an overwhelming amount of paperwork that needs to be filed, some of which you may not expect. Nonprofit Hub states that before filing an application for tax-exemption to become a 501(c)(3), a nonprofit must first become a corporation. Along with this status comes a filing fee, which is often over $100. Next, an organization must file a Form 1023, which can cost an organization upwards of $750. There may be even more paperwork and fees depending on where your organization will be incorporated and the kind of activities it will participate in. 

All of this must take place before an organization can begin hiring, launching a website, setting up programs, marketing, etc. Seed funding can help immensely because it is often difficult for newly formed nonprofits to gain traction. 

It’s easy to look at large, established organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation or the American Red Cross and believe that everything just neatly falls into place and almost runs itself. In my opinion, however, the planning, creation, and ongoing success of a nonprofit is just as hard, if not harder than creating a successful for-profit organization. Charities are almost always “selling” a service or dream that does not tangibly benefit the donor in question. This is not like for-profit companies which are able to market directly towards their customers’ needs and desires and deliver a valuable service or product which addresses them. 

While this is a significant challenge, I believe nonprofits have a powerful secret weapon: compassion. They have important stories to share, missions to achieve, and creative ways to bring about real-world change that pull donors in. By sharing the heart of and for their mission, success will be attainable. 

Creative media coverage is one of the best ways for a new nonprofit to gain attention and earn brand recognition, which will help drive more donations.

A great example of this a Yonkers-based charity called Operation Queen. On June 19th, News 12 Westchester spotlighted the local nonprofit  whose mission is to provide “free makeover services for girls to get their makeup and hair done for prom, so they can feel just as good as their peers.” 

That media coverage, even though it was just local news, helped to share the organization’s mission and origin story to a wider audience that the CEO, Yulissa Wortham would have missed otherwise. Through this coverage, Wortham was able to discuss the personal and compelling beginning of “Operation Queen.” As a teen, she was unable to afford her own prom dress so her Spanish teacher decided to step in and take her shopping. Now, Wortham is paying that kindness forward by providing makeover services to girls who could not have afforded them on their own.

Starting a successful nonprofit requires 3 things: a mission that addresses a real need and inspires donors; a vision for how to create real and lasting change; and, finally, a creative and determined spirit to sort through mountains of paperwork and identify clever ways to reach new constituents and donors. Media coverage is just one example of this. What are some of the ways you’ve seen new nonprofits make a splash for an important cause? Comment below!

 This post was contributed by Jessica Cunha, a Digital Marketing and Fundraising Intern at Charity Navigator. Jessica is currently studying at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts as a Political Communication Major with minors in Nonprofit Communication Management and Public Diplomacy. She believes that nonprofits play a vital role in the world and is passionate about Charity Navigator’s mission to identify charities the public can trust and support.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. There is indeed a lot of legwork that goes into starting a nonprofit. At Society for Nonprofits, we've created this startup guide to walk people through the process. Sharing the link in case it may be useful for someone: https://www.snpo.org/resources/startup.php

Kelly said...

This piece is full of actionable ideas and important information. I assist friends with fundraising for their young charitable foundation; this article is going from my printer to their hands pronto. Well done, Jessica, and all the best in your internship!