From daunting to scaling

Starting a nonprofit can seem daunting. Starting any new venture can – I know from experience! As I thought about finally making my dream a reality and launching MovementMaker, it felt like I was about to step off a cliff. I had no idea if I’d land on solid ground. One thing I knew for sure:  my venture would require an extraordinary investment, both personally and financially. There have been a lot of start-up costs, from my website to marketing materials or editors and beyond. 


 You can make your dream of starting a successful nonprofit a little less daunting by building a strong foundation. Here are my top 10 tips, and some expert advice from my friend Sevetri Wilson, founder and CEO of Resilia, a New Orleans/New York-based SaaS startup that helps organizations increase capacity and enables enterprises (think cities, private foundations, and corporations) that deploy billions to scale impact.


1)   Start with a needs assessment and determine your unique value proposition.

What other organizations are working on the same issue you want to address? How will what you do be different? What unique value will you bring to that space? You’ll need to shout that from the rooftops, so really push yourself as you define your value add. 


“Nine times out of ten there’s already someone doing something similar and at scale,” says Sevetri. “Your job then becomes to determine at what scale they are operating and whether they are efficient and effective. The gaps you identify will be where you’ll want to focus your efforts.” 


2) Craft a compelling, easy-to-digest mission statement. 

And please, whatever you do, avoid the jargon that we see so often in the nonprofit world. Tell your audience plainly, in terms they can relate to, what your organization does.  


3) Write your business plan.

How are you going to accomplish your mission? Workshop your plan. The more input you have from people with experience, the better your plan will be. Your business plan will be one of your primary leadership recruiting tools, as it will show potential board members the legwork you’ve done and give them more confidence in your venture. And the better your plan, the more competitive you’ll be for startup grants. 


4) Now use these four tools (needs assessment, value proposition, easy-to-digest mission statement, and business plan) to recruit your board members/leadership team. These leaders will provide critical guidance to help you along your path and will also be key to fundraising. Choose people you truly want to accompany you on this incredible journey – people you’ll enjoy grabbing a drink or smoothie with AND tackling the tough questions. “As with startups, building a nonprofit is all about relationships,” says Sevetri. “Who will you meet to talk about your work? Who is going to give you your first yes?”


Make sure you recruit people who have the skills and knowledge that you do not already have. They should help fill your knowledge gaps. 


5) Legally incorporate and file for 501(c)(3) status. This will do a couple of things for you. First, it will make your organization exempt from federal, sales, and property taxes. It will also make your organization more credible to potential supporters. Most donors will not give to an organization that doesn’t have 501(c)(3) status.  


6) Fundraise, fundraise, fundraise. 

 “The biggest misconception about starting a nonprofit is that it will be easy because it’s a nonprofit and not a tech startup or other for-profit venture,” says Sevetri. “Instead, you should treat absolutely approach your nonprofit as if it were a start-up business. What amount of funding will it take to start, run, and maintain your nonprofit? How many resources will it take to incorporate, and how long will that process take? Delays in incorporation  may mean delays in your fundraising timeline. The key is to understand who fundraises in your space and will understand your mission. Create a path or a map of people and granting organizations that fund what you’re doing.”


7) Join your state’s association of nonprofits. 

You can find your state’s association here and get hooked up with additional tools and training. 


8) Host a kickoff or other fundraising event with a community leader or partner. Having worked for nonprofits for close to two decades now, I can tell you that the relationships you build with other community organizations will be invaluable to you. Find an organization, or community leader, who would be willing to co-host a fundraising event with you, then knock it out of the park with your creativity. Make it an event to remember. 


 9) Create a platform for connecting with people online (and collecting donations).

Grassroots fundraising strategies can bring in a lot of revenue. Platforms like Kickstarter have successfully funded over 164,000 projects. Meanwhile, on average, nonprofits raise about 8% of their revenue online, and that number will only grow. Create a compelling online presence, and lead with your message. 


10)  Market relentlessly. 

Get your name out there. While MovementMakerTribe is not a nonprofit, I’ve seen firsthand the enormous boost that the right marketing has given me and my platform. 


 This list might seem daunting, but you CAN and will do it. Tackle it step by step. Start with the basics and build on them because it’s sure to allow you to scale in the future. I’ll be here cheering you on! If you want to do a deeper dive on any of this, reach out to me.



Find Resilia on Twitter: @ResiliaCo and Instagram:

Check out Sevetri on Twitter: @sevetriwilson and Instagram: @sevetriwilson


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