Startups Nonprofit-Style

Many of my friends have recently left the comfort of government and corporate jobs to take a chance with a startup company. In fact, last year, I did the same thing. It’s the type of risk that our parents shudder to think about and it’s something that a lot of people further in their career wouldn’t dream of doing. But startups can be incredibly exciting, liberating and lucrative if you get in with the right idea at the right time.

There are so many for-profit startups that have completely exploded over the last five years – particularly in the tech and social media worlds. But there are also plenty of nonprofit startups that have had great success. And they’ve all made sure to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. (This article profiles a couple of really great ones.)

There are a few things that are incredibly important to do when starting a charitable organization, but are also incredibly easy to forget. Check them out and get them done:

Do your research. Just like any other type of business, you need to make sure there’s a true need. Your passion may be strong, but if there isn’t a niche for your cause, you might be wasting your time.  Check out TopNonprofits’ Needs Assessment Worksheet.

Define the charitable purpose. This can be a pretty long-winded process with lots of paperwork to fill out, but it’s 100 percent necessary. You can gather needed paperwork on the IRS website, and if you Google, you can find how-tos for the process too. For more, see How to Turn Your Nonprofit Idea into a Legal Entity.

Write a business plan. Even though it’s a nonprofit, you still must absolutely have a business plan. And make sure that you’re making at least as much money as what’s going toward expenses. A great starting point is the lean canvas business plan. This is a single sheet business plan that is designed to help you rapidly define key components, test your assumptions, and rapidly evolve from Plan A to a Plan that works.  A marketing plan is incredibly helpful if you incorporate it up front. As a starting point, you may also want to check out the value proposition canvas. There may still be a need for a long form business plan, but you’ll save yourself a lot of time by getting the model correct before committing to a long document. Also check TopNonprofit’s resources for choosing a name, and creating a vision and mission statement.

Build an effective board. You need experience. You need passion. But most importantly, you need leadership. The board should add integrity, access to funding, and the expertise you need to advance your mission.

Build an incredible staff. Find passionate, hardworking risk takers who will continue to empower you and your organization day after day.

Additional Reading from Kadi and Third Sector Today

Tips on Winning a Corporate Sponsor for Your Nonprofit