Let me guess- You have a big aspirational dream to transform the world in a positive way. Am I right?
Maybe you’ve just returned from a trip that changed your life. Maybe you’re tired of a corporate job and want to make a difference. Maybe you’ve sought out countless organizations and still can’t find one that tackles the problem you want to solve in the way you want to do it. Regardless of your reason, you’ve come to the right place.
More than a decade ago I went through a similar personal transformation. I went from dreams of making millions on Wall Street to dreams of starting a school to help underprivileged children. I spent the next four years apprenticing and learning before I decided to start a nonprofit, which became Pencils of Promise.
What began with just $25 on the side of my job has since become an organization that’s raised over $30M and built more than 325 schools around the world. As the Founder and Board Emeritus of a leading education organization that runs on it’s own now, I realized how little-shared knowledge exists about how to start a nonprofit.
Step 1: How to Define Your Nonprofit Dream
You have to begin with four questions. You should write out the answer to the following four questions.
- Why are you starting a new organization?
- What do you aim to accomplish?
- Who are you seeking to serve?
- How will you serve your target beneficiaries?
Once you’ve answered those questions, you should be able to write a drafted Mission Statement and Vision Statement (for more help see here).
Insider Tip: Get inspired with this list of 50 great Mission Statements.
Step 2: How to Incorporate and File 501(c)3 Paperwork
Incorporating is part of the legal process to ensure you can operate:
- The first step is to write the Articles of Incorporation and Articles of Organization and you can sign up here to gain access to templates and detailed guidance.
- Once those are filed with your state, you can easily apply online for your Employee Identification Number (EIN).
- The final step to is to file your Form 1023 application. This is the only truly difficult part. This requires many different documents pulled together in one cohesive submission. My best advice is to reach out to a law firm, as they require pro bono hours from their lawyers and one will most likely help you with this process.
Insider Tip: As soon as you have your EIN you can start fundraising but you must communicate that all donations will be retroactively tax-deductible pending your Form 1023 acceptance. If you do the paperwork correctly you should receive approval, but it’s a 3-6 month waiting period. You only have 27 months from the date of incorporation to receive 501(c)3 status, so make your life easy and do it right away!
Step 3: How To Set Up Your Nonprofit Bank Account
In order to start fundraising and supporting your mission, you’ll need to setup a bank account. You can do this as soon as you have an EIN. You’ll set up a DBA (“Doing Business As”) business account since the organization is really just you at the start.
Checklist to bring to the bank:
- EIN or Tax Number document
- Articles of Incorporation
- Articles of Organization
- Government Issued ID for you or anyone you’ll want to sign checks
Insider Tip: Many banks have special offers for nonprofits so make that ask!
Step 4: Set up your Email and Social Media Account.
This is the first step in building your brand. Once you decide on the name of your organization, make sure you reserve a short, memorable version of it across the following channels:
- Email: Use Google apps for business to create your email account.
- Social Media: Try to get the same account name across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vimeo, Pinterest and YouTube.
- Add-Ons: Many companies offer free or discounted products for nonprofits. These include Google, Salesforce, Microsoft and others. Take advantage of it!
Step 5: How to Setup a Nonprofit Website to Capture Early Leads
One day you’ll build a comprehensive website, but at the start, you just need to keep it simple and get something up that captures people’s attention. This is called a Splash Page. It lets people know that you exist, but creates intrigue as to what’s coming.
- Sign up at Launchrock.com for one of their customized websites
- Visit websites with free stock imagery to find something that captures the feeling you hope to convey. Keep in mind, this image should be more about the feel of your brand than about specifics of your mission. You want to evoke emotion, that’s it. Several great free stock image sites include Pixabay, Unsplash, and Shutterstock.
- Create a simple, clean splash page using the Launchrock builder with an email sign up form.
In these first five steps, you’ll be able to go from an idea to a fully operational organization.
I’d also recommend you read my article on The 4 Steps to Successfully Ask For Money.
But this is just the beginning.
I’d also love to teach you how to recruit a team of hardcore volunteers, establish a world-changing brand, and build a great Board of Directors.
All that and more is available via my new online course, where you can learn more at The Nonprofit Playbook.
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