Sometimes I have crazy ideas. By crazy, I mean big. And by sometimes, I mean always. So when I declared I was going to figure out how to start a nonprofit charity in honor of my dog, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. It started out simply as a yearly website contest. But I always wanted to do more to help animals – like saving every single one of them. Early on, Friends Of Ruby was extremely lucky to have been accepted into a nonprofit startup program run through the University of North Carolina. My advisor showed me that I’m not so crazy after all. And I learned a few other things about starting a nonprofit as well.
How To Start a Nonprofit
In many ways, the formation of a nonprofit is just like starting a small business. Luckily, I’d already had several experiences from the small business side. Both can really only be accomplished by patiently following a standard set of procedures, one step at a time. While you can do it impatiently, that’s not healthy and doesn’t make it go any faster. I’ve got experience with that as well.
As I move through the process myself, I’ll take you through key steps in a series of blog posts – starting with this one. I’m hoping my experience will help educate you about the formation of your own charitable organization. If you’re thinking about starting one, chances are you’ve already taken the most important step: it all starts with your vision.
Establish Your Vision
By vision, I mean passion. All startups need love in order to grow. And this is especially true with charitable organizations. If you’re considering starting one, you’ve obviously identified a specific cause or need. You decided you want to make a positive impact on the world. You start to see a path that will get you there. Passion is the fuel. This one was easy for me. I’m a rescue human, you see. And I wear my passion literally tattooed on my arm with the name of the dog that took me into his world.
The IRS does set some guidelines in order to qualify for charitable tax exemptions. Example 501(c)(3) organizations would be scientific, educational, or religious in nature. In some cases, they may focus on prevention of cruelty or advocacy for animals. So make sure to confirm your vision falls into one of the designated categories. And then dream on, dreamer.
Define the Mission
Often confused with one another, the mission statement is different than the vision. It’s less dreamy. Instead, it’s a more on the ground and get down to work kinda thing. And it’s meant to publicly formalize the work your organization intends to do in order to achieve that vision you have. Give this one some serious thought, do your research, and take time to let things marinate. The most consideration, in fact, should go into this part as the mission statement will drive your charitable organization starting from the moment you officially form.
Speaking of officially forming, in upcoming posts I’ll talk about filing articles of incorporation to become Friends Of Ruby, Inc., writing bylaws, and other steps you’ll want to know about how to start a nonprofit. (Think paperwork and the testing of your patience that I spoke about.) But don’t worry about that yet. In the meantime, I’m still sort of stuck on the final mission statement. But the vision for Friends Of Ruby is clear:
When I submitted this version to my advisor for feedback, he was pleasantly surprised and told me he almost never sees startup organizations with visions this big? I knew what that meant! But it hasn’t stopped me from dreaming crazy big for my best friend.