Your All-Inclusive Six Step Guide to Starting a Nonprofit
Find your passion & spark
Build your base. Find the most trusted people to work with you and think of a tangible product, purpose, service, or activity to do. Create a business plan.
The certification process can be long, but fiscal sponsorship is equally as helpful. Find what works best for you.
Start up your socials & website; it’s time to build your brand credibility and awareness.
Scale your organization with partnerships and promotional activities to attract more attention.
Measure & review your progress, decide your future steps
So, you want to start a nonprofit?
The first question you should be asking before that is why you’re founding that nonprofit. Do you have that passion or spark to take initiative and do something truly revolutionary?
That was exactly what I wanted to do just under a year ago, and I cannot even begin to explain how much I’ve learned and grown as a person. Founding a nonprofit transformed me into a much better version of myself, and as I grew it, my nonprofit also impacted me in unimaginable ways. If you’re looking to start one, feel free to continue on this journey with us in building your nonprofit up to success.
STEP ONE: FIND YOUR PASSION & SPARK
When I started my nonprofit, I had only one goal in mind: to help those with mental health illnesses and reduce the stigma around them. I didn’t need my nonprofit to be big or anything; I didn’t even care about certification. I just focused on that one goal, and that led to growth. I put my everything into my organization, my time, my soul, and my entire life. I would spend hours organizing, writing, designing, and researching different marketing strategies.
And it was all so worth it. Knowing that my organization, something I started up from scratch, is having a tangible impact, however small, on others is so fulfilling. My organization, Plannr Consulting, now has over 50+ staff members internationally, and consults with new clients every day, whether it be about academics or mental health. However, I am not done yet. The stigma around mental health is not gone and people are still suffering every day. I am not done helping others feel better when they are at their worst. I am not done growing this organization, and I don’t think I’ll ever be done.
However, a nonprofit is essentially worthless if it is not fueled with something– a fire, some passion, something to have an impact on. All successful nonprofits have a legitimate reason for wanting to exist, regardless of how big or small the issue may be. Without passion, nonprofits can’t survive because they thrive off of that love and dedication. Finding your “why” is the first thing you should be thinking about when starting a nonprofit.
My passion pushed me to keep going with my organization even when things were falling apart, personally, or within the organization. Starting a nonprofit isn’t something you can just do for fun because COVID-19 gave us an extra few hours in the day. It’s something we have to put effort, time, and love into. Doing this for college apps or some other superficial reason will only hinder the success of your nonprofit. Be real to yourself and find something that you truly care about. If you find your why, your passion, your ultimate love, what will fulfill you for the rest of your life, do it.
STEP TWO: BUILD YOUR BASE
Now that you’ve realized your passion, it’s time to build that solid base for your nonprofit. Ask yourself the following questions.
Why am I doing this? What research can support this reason?
What am I doing here? What product/service/activity will my nonprofit physically do?
When am I doing this? What timeline must be established to effectively scale this nonprofit?
Where am I doing this? Will this be geographically segmented? What is the specific audience?
How am I going to do this? How will this project be scaled? What resources do I need?
Building your product, application, or service is by far the most important part of building your organization. Will you be offering consulting services? Are you building a community? Do you wish to sell bracelets to raise money for a specific cause? Figuring out those activities will determine how you scale your organization in the future. Start working on a feasible business plan that will carry you at least into the first year.
Create your logo, and build your actual brand. Find a color palette and font variations that give your brand the look you want. Consider whether you want a bold, modern, sleek, classy, or flashy look. There is so much you can do here to make your brand unique, so be creative.
Once you figure out those specs, you can start recruiting people. Find people with the same level of passion as you. Those people will be the most motivated to keep going with this project. I remember with my organization, we once hired someone with no motive to keep working in Plannr. Sure, she had a couple of years of experience in health, but she didn’t care for our purpose and vision. When I look for someone to hire, the number one thing I look for is that passion, because, without it, we don’t know when they could randomly disappear or abandon us. Looking for the balance of passion and experience is critical to the sustainable growth of your organization.
STEP THREE: THE CERTIFICATION PROCESS
We all know to be an official nonprofit, there are some more technical and legal aspects. A 501(c)3 takes anywhere from 2-6 months to obtain and can cost up to or over $1000. So, what’s the point of going through with obtaining the status? There are many benefits to having the official status, not only for credibility but also for monetary purposes. For a full list of benefits, click here.
If you don’t want to go through the whole certification process, there are always other options available. At Plannr Consulting, we took a fiscal sponsorship route and used Hack Club as our sponsor. They provided a bank account where we could allocate funds, a donation page, credit cards, debit cards, a Gsuite, and so much more, and it only took about two weeks. Although we may not be an official 501(c)3, we are able to still have the monetary funds and scale our organization the way we want to.
Ultimately, I’m not saying one is better, as it really all depends on how you want to proceed with your nonprofit.
STEP FOUR: BUILDING BRAND CREDIBILITY & AWARENESS
It’s time to start up your social media and website. First, work on finding the best website builder (and cheapest) to create your eye-catching website. Using your branding, you can build a website that fits your nonprofit’s style. Then, link that website everywhere, Show your friends, family, and strangers. Amplify your brand’s voice and platforms.
Starting with an Instagram page is the smartest way for growth. Building up a strong Instagram page takes time, but if you spent time earlier in making your brand look aesthetic, then it shouldn’t be too hard to make it look good. Focus on the content and style, and followers will come along with it. Branching out into different online platforms, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, NPOCore, Slack, Discord, and more will also greatly help your brand awareness. Make sure to stick to your target market though, and not to diversify too much.
STEP FIVE: SCALE YOUR ORGANIZATION
What is the best way to gain traction to my nonprofit?
This is a question I get a lot when consulting with others on nonprofits. There is no one way to scale to the top. It takes so much time, effort, and energy to build a nonprofit, but there are certain tips on scaling effectively.
Forming partnerships is something that I’ve found particularly helpful for Plannr. Cross-promotion on socials have brought us hundreds of followers and our joint campaigns have reached thousands. Our brand has grown partially due to our partners and without them, we wouldn't be where we are today. Being open to collaborations is one of the best things you could do for your brand.
We also did giveaways, takeovers, and IG Lives to gain traction on our pages. Holding promotional activities and using hashtags can bring a higher organic reach. Study social media algorithms and play the game right.
STEP SIX: MEASURE & REVIEW PROGRESS
Congratulations! You’ve built your own nonprofit organization. So, what’s next?
It’s not time to stop here, or ever. Think of the longevity of your organization. What can you do to keep it growing for longer? What can you do to have a greater impact on your target market?
Take another look at your business plan and determine what you need to do next in order to grow. For example, for Plannr Consulting, we have an upcoming ambassador program, a chapter program, and more webinars and campaigns. Growth never ends with nonprofits if you remember your passion and spark. Get back to the roots of why you started the organization and remind other people why your passion is important.
In the end, nonprofits are not about the certification or the follower count. It’s always about step one. Find your passion & spark.
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