I started D.R.E.A.M. Life at the age of twenty-three after working as a volunteer for a local non-profit organization.
I didn’t have a degree in non-profit management. I didn’t have years of work experience in the field. I gained a small amount of experience in the sector and decided I wanted to make a difference in my community.
Big Mistake. While it’s nice to say that I became a social entrepreneur relatively young, the truth is, I was merely an inexperienced girl with a lofty dream of helping others. Little experience plus big dreams does not lend to a successful entrepreneur.
Fortunately, in my case, I realized my deficiencies early on. So, I sought guidance from seasoned Executive Directors, attorneys and accountants. I took courses and read books in the field. I hired specialists to make up for my weak areas. I got on track.
While my formula for foundation was a little haphazard, I have been able to put the pieces of the puzzle together based on my sought-after knowledge. So for the countless, ambitious young leaders who constantly seek guidance from me on how to start a non-profit, here are some crucial steps to take – some I knew early on and others I learned along the way:
1. Put Your Idea in Writing – There are several says that this can be done including a business plan, concept paper, strategic plan etc.
Some questions that should be answered are:
2. Identify Your Core Team – Although you may be the Founder/Executive Director, since non-profits are public corporations & benefit the community, they have to be operated by a number of people - called the Board of Directors. These individuals make the major decisions vs. day-to-day operations of the organization.
Things to look for in choosing your board members:
For small non-profits, typical board members are 3 – 7 people.
Other vital people to have on your development team are an attorney and accountant. Many individuals in these professions provide pro bono services for non-profits.
3. Create Bylaws – These are the rules that govern the board i.e. how often they meet, how voting rights work, how people get kicked off, how many years one can stay on the board, etc.
4. Complete and File Paperwork – This paperwork is necessary for the organization to be legally in compliance at the local, state and federal level and includes:
*These forms have varying fees to register and templates can also be found to assist in completing them.
7. Get Insured – To protect Board of Directors, staff, volunteers and program space.
8. Take Next Steps – Once the tedious items are out of the way, the cool stuff beings: