Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to start a successful nonprofit

Thinking of starting a nonprofit?  Good for you!  Successful nonprofits provide goods and services that may be simply unavailable to various target populations in the world of macro solution strategies.

The key word is successful. People don't intentionally start nonprofit organizations intending to fail. Still, many do fail, or they fail to grow enough to actually achieve their mission. Here are some strategies to make sure that your nonprofit is not one of them.

1. Have a plan. Failure to plan is the number one reason all new business ventures fail, and the nonprofit skeleton or framework is the same as it is for any other business. Start with a strategic plan and be honest when you assemble the facts and financial data for the plan. This is the time to exchange the rose-colored glasses for a microscope. Don't gloss over any problems or threats to success. Everything else will depend on how well you do this one step. If you don't know how to gather the data, or don't know what data to include, spend the time and/or money to find someone who does. A strategic plan is more than a template. It is up to you to make it a useful document. Step one of the plan should be step two in this article.

2. Assemble an effective board. The board is responsible for governance and guidance. It is not and should not be the staff that does the day-to-day tasks after the initial formation of the nonprofit. An effective board should be passionate about mission delivery but it should also include people who have some expertise in the nuts and bolts processes of running a nonprofit or business.

3. Formulate a way to meet your financial needs via a funding plan. Know from the beginning that even after you receive your 501(c)(3) determination letter, grant funding is going to be an unlikely source of funding for the first two or three years. You can't help anyone if you can't pay the bills.

4. Hire a qualified executive director/CEO. This should be the only employee that the board directly hires or engages. This person is the general contractor, if you will, for the organization. The ED is both the public face of the organization and the person responsible for the operational success of the mission. Typically, many founders try to be both a board member and the ED. While that may be viable for a few months, it is a conflict of interest emotionally, and it generally results in neither job being done well. Even if the ED is initially a volunteer, have clear performance expectations and communicate them well. 

5. Market your mission. No one is going to support you if they don't know about you. Hold an open house or an event to involve your community in your goals.

6. Do frequent assessments. Your strategic plan should have outlined the steps for success. Where are you in terms of achieving those steps?
7. Don't ignore negative trends. It is very tempting to focus only on the good things. Seemingly minor issues can quickly grow into major ones that can destroy your organization. If a problem seems to be present at every board meeting, it is probably is a major issue. No problem should be present for more than two meetings without raising concern. Be proactive in addressing  the issue and expect results, not excuses.

8. Be involved without resorting to daily micro-managing. That might seem to be in direct opposition to number seven, but it really isn't. If you created an effective strategic plan you should have developed job descriptions and goals for your staff that will support the mission. If you review those goals often you will know if something is wrong. Until then, try to let the people you have engaged do their job

Following these steps will put your nonprofit on the road to success.  If you have questions, feel free to email me at  

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