You have this incredible idea to start a school for low-income students in your community. You see that there is a strong need for this type of work as the education system seems to be failing those who are underprivileged in your town. You finally decide to quit your job and go all-in on starting this nonprofit organization. But, where do you even begin?
First and foremost, if you want to start your own nonprofit organization, you need to know from the outset that it is going to take a tremendous amount of time, energy, commitment, and dedication to get your idea off of the ground and into a functioning nonprofit organization. The legal paperwork is a lengthy process and finding the funding can take quite a bit of time and effort as well. If you have an idea, we recommend that you start by doing a bit of digging on whether any type of organization - similar to the one you have in mind - already exists. If one does, then you should contact them and find out how you can help out or collaborate with that specific organization. However, if you can’t seem to find any organization like the one you're envisioning, and you feel compelled to start your own, here is a simplified step by step guide on how to start your own nonprofit organization!
You might ask: “What exactly, in legal terms, defines a nonprofit organization?” This is a common and frequent question among ambitious individuals who want to start their own organizations. A nonprofit is defined by the IRS as an organization that is operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, educational, or other specified purposes. This organization must operate and provide its services without the primary goal of making money. While there are many different classifications for charitable organizations, most individuals who find themselves starting their own nonprofit organizations will likely file to become a 501(c)(3). This specific classification enables your organization to be tax exempt under the Internal Revenue Code. However, you should worry about the legal paperwork after you’ve laid the foundation for your nonprofit. Here’s where you should start:
Once you have the foundation set in place, then you will need to apply for a 501(c)(3). The process is unfortunately not as simple as filling out the paperwork, submitting it, and getting the stamp of approval. In fact, it can take 3 months to over a year to get a response from the IRS. But once you have the official 501(c)(3) stamp of approval, your organization is no longer an idea, and it is now an official nonprofit organization.
While the process of becoming a nonprofit organization is a time consuming and oftentimes complicated process, this simple guide can get you started and headed in the right direction. Glenaan O’Neil, founder of Lone Star Victims Advocacy Project, has a great piece of advice for individuals starting their own a nonprofit organization: “Understand that most times when you ask someone a question or ask them to do something, you're probably going to get a no, but be ready to follow that up with ‘Well who else do you think I should ask?’”. The process of becoming a functioning nonprofit is a marathon, it's not a sprint. It is going to take a lot of work from a lot of dedicated people. Be willing to ask for help, and if that individual can't help you, ask them if they can point you in the direction of someone who can.