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Starting Your Own Nonprofit: A Beginner's Guide

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Starting a nonprofit is a great way to support your community. Nothing is more rewarding than giving back to the place that shaped you into the person you are today. Creating a solid nonprofit organization can be a long process that requires hard work and determination, though the result is worth it. Learn more about what steps are necessary to get your organization off the ground. Keep in mind these steps are general: specific steps will vary based on your state's laws and regulations. Consult with a tax or legal professional for help with the details of your nonprofit.

Research Other Organizations

Make sure another group, whether it's a nonprofit, for-profit, or government entity, isn't already doing the same or similar work in your community. Duplicated services will have a harder time finding financial support. Once you've established a need, gather data from the community, explain how the need isn't currently being met, and how your organization can fill the void.

Develop a Mission Statement, Plan, and Board

Drafting a solid mission statement is critical in creating a successful nonprofit. Communicating your nonprofit's purpose and service will give the community a clear idea of what you're offering. Every action and decision made by your group should reflect your mission statement.

Writing a detailed business plan to describe how your organization intends to achieve its mission. Investing time to create a detailed business plan will give the organization a solid structure, and give financiers more certainty when an operational issue arises.

Developing a strong and diverse board to help manage your nonprofit can signal broad community support and may increase your chance of success. Including a variety of voices and backgrounds in leadership roles can help strengthen your organization and ensure several perspectives are heard. Depending on what state you're launching your nonprofit, you may have to have a minimum number of board members.

Incorporate Your Nonprofit

Incorporating your nonprofit gives credibility to your program, limits liability, and ensures compliance with the IRS and its policies. Specific rules of incorporation vary state-by-state, so make sure you're following your state's guidelines. The basic steps of incorporation are registering your nonprofit's name, filing Articles of Incorporation, and preparing additional documents like bylaws and policies.

File for 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Status

Apply for exempt service through the IRS. The user fee can either be $275 or $600, depending on the method of application. It can take up to 12 months for the IRS to return its decision, and there may be follow-up questions about your application. Have a legal or financial professional look over your paperwork before submitting it.

Ensure Ongoing Compliance

Though you have registered on the federal level, make sure you have registered on your state's level, too. Each state has an office in charge of charitable oversight. Once you've done the proper registration, prepare for annual reporting which can include finances, staff, and processes. Keeping an organized log of everything your nonprofit does will help make the reporting process as smooth as possible. Joining your state's association of nonprofits is a great tool to connect you with other groups and learn from veteran organizations.

Once your nonprofit is off the ground, you can further develop your leadership skills with a specialized program or certificate. Tulane School of Professional Advancement offers a graduate certificate in Strategic and Nonprofit Management, a 100% online program that can be applied to our Master of Public Administration. Request more information to see where SoPA can take you.

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