How to Build a Non-Profit Startup

How to Build a Non-Profit Startup

Most of us want to start a business for one (or both) of two reasons: 1) To make money; and 2) To make a difference – an impact. A non-profit startup is no different, only the money you’re making is for the betterment of the cause, rather than to create an income or fortune for your own!

Just because you’re considering a non-profit doesn’t mean it will be easy, which is an easy mistake to make, banking on generosity to get the organisation on its feet and making great strides. However, there’s nothing easy about this business model, regardless of how rewarding it will eventually be for you, your staff, and beneficiaries.

Here’s a short primer on what you’ll need to be successful.

Decide on your WHY

The WHY is very important for any business. As a non-profit, you’re going to be running on donations and all whom you ask to give you money will invariably ask this question. You need to clearly identify a problem, what’s causing it, and precisely how your organization will solve it.

Consider your organization’s uniqueness in solving the issue

Will you and your team bring anything unique to the issue you’re trying to solve? Let’s start with a very real scenario to describe this step. You want to solve the world’s freshwater problems, ending the thirst and agricultural problems that exist in places like Africa and areas of the Western US.

Can you do something that Matt Damon (who has a massive global reach) and his water.org charity cannot? Your ability to solve the problem by inspiring confidence for fundraising is the key to non-profit success – perhaps a partnership or supporting role in an existing charity is a better option?

Girls carrying water in India
photo credit: Cecilia Snyder / Flickr

What are you going to do over the next 3 years?

Planning is going to be super important for a non-profit, because again, you’re going to need to start seeing money trickling in right away. A for-profit will be able to create products and services, whereas you’ll be looking to secure products, services, and finances to reach the organisational goals.

Write out a plan of all the initiatives you want to accomplish in the next 3 – 5 years and decide on a starting point for tomorrow, 6 months from now, a year from now, etc. Once you know what you need to do, you can figure out what the resources you’ll need to procure in order to start creating effective fundraising campaigns.

Get a fundraising mentor on board quickly

Unless you have oodles of experience in raising funds for a non-profit, you’re going to want to find a mentor to help you along with all the zillions of details involved in budgeting, marketing, event planning, outreach, and administration.

In order to get off the ground running quickly and to find a wealthy early-stage investor to help put money in the bank account for various initiatives, it’s always good to have experience (and their contacts) on your side.

Figure out a plan to find the money

Are you going to outright solicit strangers walking down the street or go door-to-door? You’ll need lots of volunteers and they’ll need training. Will you target large corporations or big-wig humanitarians for money? If so, you’ll need a networking plan to get into a room with these people and make your pitch.

Perhaps a partnership with a popular manufacturer who’ll give a certain percent of sales to your charity – if you can offer them considerable good press in return, such as if you have access to a massive social media reach. Figure out your targets and how you’ll get a face-to-face with them, including what you can do for them (if necessary) in return.

Define your specific role

Decide if your role will be as a trustee, never taking a dime for your extensive efforts? A trustee doesn’t get paid and reports directly to the country of origin’s Charity Commission. Nothing wrong with this, but as the financial plan for the company unveils itself, this will be an important consideration.

If not, you’ll want to define the position you’ll hold such as chief executive, director, manager, etc. – who’ll report directly to the board of directors once established – and how much you’ll accept as compensation for your time.

Digital marketing team

Find a superb non-profit marketing genius

In this day and age, where social media reigns supreme, you’ll need someone well versed in getting your message out to the masses. Look for people with experience, hire them as staff or as part-time volunteers.

These people need to be the cream of the crop with all forms of media and online marketing wizards to get your message out. As with all parts of a charitable venture, it will fall on you and your partners to convince these experts that your charity is worthy of their expertise.

Name and branding are key in non-profits

Each are critical in any business. However, naming a non-profit is much different from a tech or other business startup. The name has to be catchy, yet fully describe the brand’s goal (ie., water.org is as effective as it is simple). If you are someone of note, or are starting the charity in honor of a lost, disabled, or abused loved one, it’s always a good idea to name the charity after that person for brand recognition.

Make sure you also have a compelling one line sub-head to use on your website and promotional materials, in addition to well written “about us”, professionally designed logos and other web and advertising material elements ready to go before seeking donations.

Get going and never give up

All cheesiness aside, you should feel good about yourself, your staff, and the organisation as a whole at the end of each day. You’re doing something unselfish, presumably for no benefit of your own, that’s going to reach people in a way that only a committed team of compassionate people can.

Realise that while it will never be easy, you’re doing it because there’s a cause out there greatly depending on your help!

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