Many visionaries with fabulous ideas for non-profits never get off the ground or if they do, they fizzle out quickly, despite the need and the passion. Why is that? There is more to starting a non-profit than a passion and the need. Consider the mistake of people who have gone before you and you can prevent them before they occur, as you pursue your vision for your non-profit.
- Not understanding the complexity and time involved: Starting a non-profit is more complex and involves more detailed paperwork than starting a business. Understanding your state requirements, IRS issues and legal considerations is considerable. Make sure you have researched all of this and considered the details before jumping in. Doing this legwork in the earliest stages will save you years of headaches down the road and put you firmly on the path to success for your non-profit.
- Evaluate the need: Is there truly a need for the non-profit you are envisioning? Perhaps there are many in your area who are already filling that need. Define your audience, are they out there? What do clients and others that you would serve say about the need? There is incredible competition among similar non-profits for the same donors. What will set yours apart? Do you not only have the passion, but also the skills to provide that need? Do some investigation to make sure the data and numbers support your perception of a need. This information will be valuable down the road for funding, as well.
- Deficient Business Plan: Just as strong businesses need a detailed business plan, non-profits do as well. This includes evaluating your “competition”, your products and services, organizational structure, mission statement, operational and marketing plans, and financials. Too many non-profits start with a vague and incomplete business plan and that dooms them for failure before they have begun.
- Poor web and social media presence: Social media is not optional, it is critical for people connecting and supporting your cause, and if they can’t find you online via your website and social media, you are missing a critical force. Social media is how you engage with your supporters, communicate news and successes, and harvest new supporters. Social media is also an effective way for you to provide and deliver some of your services. This is a win-win for cost-effective service delivery while also providing your site potential donors a real-world peek at what you offer and do for your community. A website that is well-built, optimized for search engines and user-friendly is critical to your online success.
- Weak or not-unified board of directors: Choose them wisely, they can make or break your non-profit. Filling your board with close friends, family members, or former fraternity members is a sure way to not have the effective board behind your mission and goals. Board members should be individuals with the experience, influence, and resources to help with your vision and purpose. You want board members who share your passion and are responsible team players willing to do the work to set you up for success. A specific plan for recruiting board members as well as board governance is critical.
- Limited streams of revenue: Your fundraising must be diverse so that you are protected in uncertain times and not too dependent on any one stream of revenue. Focus on both large and small donors. Investors who believe in your vision and will stay with you in the rough days are imperative to your ongoing revenue. Running your non-profit as though it is for profit will tell you to diverse and continually evaluate your revenue streams. When you know these things, you will be successful in attracting more donors and streams of income
- Poor funding/development strategy: All aspects of the organization must be financed, including all salaries. Not only do you need to know how much it will cost to start and sustain your non-profit, you need to know where that funding will come from. A realistic funding strategy will detail these factors and more.
Address these 7 areas before you start your non-profit and you will be on your way to success and making the difference that you envisioned in the beginning. The satisfaction of a solid start will take you far as you work out your impact.
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