Materials, tools, and tips and tricks for everything from fundraising and event planning to community engagement and nonprofit governance.
Nonprofit Starter Pack
So, you’re thinking about starting a nonprofit. First off, CONGRATULATIONS! Before digging into the nuts and bolts below, let's acknowledge that you’ve taken your first HUGE step towards changing the world.
Below we outline some key steps in starting your nonprofit, with a focus on becoming a government-recognized organization. We’ve included some rough timelines for how long this process will (hopefully) take.
Step One: Choose A Name
This one’s important. Your name is the first thing anyone knows about you. It’s an opportunity to signal your mission and values, and can also be informative and practical. Keep your target demographic in mind, potential donors, employees and volunteers. Most of all, choose a name that feels uniquely you.
Pro Tip: reserve a website domain ASAP after choosing your name. We’re fans of hover.
Step Two: Draft Bylaws and Mission Statement
Before you start changing the world, it’s important to define how you’d like to change it. This is where bylaws and mission statements are essential.
Your mission statement is your purpose as an organization. It should immediately communicate what challenge you’re trying to solve, and your unique approach to solving it. See examples here.
Bylaws are the rules that dictate your organization's operations. They cover topics like board structure, meeting cadence, chapter governance (if you plan to open new chapters), core values and codes of conduct for members. Find a sample bylaws template here.
Step Three: Appoint Directors / Board Members
Making change takes a village, so most nonprofit founders will recruit a board to help them grow their organization. Board members should share your passion for your mission statement, have time to devote to the cause, and complementary skill sets to other members of the founding team.
Many boards include the following positions:
Set strategy, goals, and co-create timelines with Board Members
Coordinate Board meetings and develop agendas
Manage cross-functional projects
Coach, counsel and hold Board accountable
Financial, legal, and administrative oversight
Act as ad hoc resource
Run Board and local chapter recruitment (Board and Local Chapters)
New Chapter Mentorship
Develop ‘starter kit’ for local chapters
Own and build relationships with partner orgs
Organize impact trips and board retreats
Develop impact assessment framework
Run selection / RFP process
Measure and report out on partner success
Operations / Secretary:
Get and maintain 501c3 status
Technology systems buildout and maintenance (channels of communication, file sharing, etc.)
Develop annual budget
Inflow and outflow of funds with local chapters
Responsible for collection, reimbursement
File all appropriate taxes
Engage and energize volunteers, donors, and members
Manage regular email, social communications
Maintain and improve the website (SEO)
Develop brand book
Step Four: Incorporate Your Nonprofit (1-2 Months)
Once you’ve established your mission statement and bylaws and assembled your leadership team, you’re ready to begin the legal process of becoming a government-recognized nonprofit. Online services like LegalZoom can be a huge help with this process.
Step Five: Apply for 501(c)(3) Status (4-6 Months)
Before your nonprofit organization can receive tax-deductible gifts from donors, you need to secure 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and your state. Alternatively, you can secure a capital sponsor by partnering with another 501(c)(3).
We applied for our 501(c)(3) Status using LegalZoom.