Posted by Jay Wilkinson


Each year, the nonprofit sector in the U.S. grows. The number of applications to form new charities doubled from 45,289 in 2013 to 92,653 in 2015*. That’s great news. While tragedy and crisis often make the headlines and evening news, the truth is, more and more people are working together to make the world a better a place.

If you’ve considered starting your own nonprofit, you should know Firespring has your back—we’re in the business of equipping nonprofits to carry out their mission and spread the word about their cause.

But before you sign a lease for office space or begin printing T-shirts with your tagline, ask yourself some important questions to help determine if you’re ready to launch a new organization. The key to starting a successful nonprofit is to make sure you’ve done your homework and laid the proper foundation. Start with these six questions:

1. What problem are you trying to solve?
The internet allows almost anyone passionate about a cause to champion it publicly and affect change, both locally and globally. But that means that, unless you’ve somehow stumbled upon an issue nobody else is aware of, several other organizations likely have a mission similar to yours. So ask yourself, what specific problem are you trying to solve? What’s your unique selling proposition, so to speak? Are you trying to do something other nonprofits in your field haven’t accomplished yet? Or coming alongside them to add firepower? It’s crucial for you to know exactly what your mission is—that will drive the rest of your decisions.

2. What will your website’s URL be?
Notice I didn’t say name. Of course, your organization’s name is important, but perhaps even more important is your nonprofit’s URL. When someone wants to learn more about your nonprofit, where are they going to go? Straight to your website. That’s your marketing and branding hub, so you want your URL to be short, memorable, available and connected to your company name. You’ll be disappointed if you come up with a great name, then realize you can’t get a URL to match. Before you settle on a name, make sure you can get the URL—or at least one that’s very close.

3. What paperwork do you need to fill out?
I know it sounds tedious and boring, but you want to lay the proper legal and financial groundwork from the get-go. If you don’t, you’ll have headaches to deal with down the road that will be even less fun than filling out the necessary paperwork, forms and applications in the beginning. Find a lawyer and an accountant (preferably who specialize in nonprofits) and learn what steps you need to take in order to be financially and legally on the up-and-up from day 1. Transparency is key when it comes to building a loyal constituent base for the long haul.

4. How are you going to fund your mission?
Unless you’re financing your venture on your own, you’re going to need a revenue stream. You basically have two choices: Raise funds or make money via sales. If you’re like most organizations, fundraising will be your lifeline. And FYI, fundraising never ends. Even big, well-established organizations have to raise money. Your financial challenge will be that much easier if you have a basic fundraising strategy and can articulate, in a nutshell, why your organization is worthy of people’s support. Which leads to the next question.

5. What’s your elevator speech?
You should be able to tell me about your nonprofit’s mission in the time it takes to go up or down a few floors. Why do you exist? What do you need money for? What’s your cause? Who do you serve? Take some time to craft a clear, concise mini-speech that tells potential constituents why your organization is worth supporting. You’ll be amazed how many times you’ll use your elevator speech, especially in the beginning when you’re assembling a board of directors, recruiting volunteers and finding supporters.

6. Who’s going to help you?
You need a board of directors—that’s non-negotiable. Beyond that, how will you accomplish your mission? With paid staff? Volunteers? A combination of both? As soon as you know you want to start a nonprofit, that’s the time to get people on board with you. Begin to build your community right away and get people to join you in your cause—there’s strength in numbers, and you’ll burn out quickly if you try to go it alone for long. Set up meetings. Lunches. Host cocktail gatherings or invite people to informational meetings. Get the word out and assemble a team.

Firespring is committed to using our people, products and profit as a force for good. Whether you’re a brand new organization or have been around for 30 years, we can help you accomplish your mission with easy-to-use online tools and affordable websites. And when 82% of donors visit a nonprofit’s website before giving, you must ensure you build a website that gives potential supporters a great first impression and compels them to engage.

Intimidated by technology? We totally understand—most people are. Fortunately for you, we’re not. Explore our platform with a website demo personalized for your nonprofit.

*Internal Revenue Service Data Book, 2015. Publication 55B. Washington, DC. March 2016.


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