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How to Set Up a Charity: The 10,000 ft View



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Looking to change the world? Your own charity is a great place to start – if you know what you’re doing. Running a charitable organization isn’t as easy as some people make it look. There are legalities to consider, to say nothing of the logistics involved.

We’ll run you through everything you need to know. By the end of this piece, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to start working towards the greater good. Let’s dive right in.

Initial Questions

Before you get started, ask yourself a few questions (via Charity Village):

  • What need will your charity address? Is it a long-term or short-term problem? Do you understand what’s involved in meeting this need?
  • Are you capable of carrying out the necessary work involved in running your nonprofit?
  • Are there other, similar organizations in your region that already address this need? Will they be competitors or partners?
  • When will you start your nonprofit? Is the timeframe you’ve come up with a viable one?
  • Would you be able to achieve your mission by volunteering your time with an already-existing charity? If not, why?
  • Are there other people who agree that your charity is necessary? Are they willing to volunteer their time and energy to help you?
  • Do you have the necessary resources to get your charity off the ground? If not, will you be capable of locating them?
  • Do you understand the laws and regulations surrounding nonprofits in your region?

This initial planning phase is absolutely vital if you’re to meet with any sort of success. Do not proceed with your nonprofit until you can answer each and every one of these questions in full. It’s all too easy to get caught up in chasing your dream and forget about all the work that needs to be done in order to attain it.

Draft A Mission Statement

Once you’re certain founding your own charity is the right thing to do, your next step is to write up a mission statement. Even though this is one of the most important components of your nonprofit, this is where many tend to mess things up. According to Francis Pandolfi of the Harvard Business Review, nonprofit mission statements often end up being little more than slogans.

“An effective mission statement must be a clear description of where an organization is headed in the future that distinctly sets it apart from other entities and makes a compelling case for the need it fills,” writes Pandolfi. “This mission must be short, memorable, and appropriate for a variety of organizational stakeholders including, for example, employees, funding sources, served constituencies and the Board of Trustees.”

Come Up With An Awesome Name

With all the initial planning out of the way, it’s time for a bit of marketing flair. You need to come up with a winning name for your organization, along with a means of differentiating it from its competitors. There are 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United states, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics – regardless of your mission, that’s a lot of competition to deal with.

“Charities are organizations by design, but require philanthropy for support – and people like to donate to people,” writes Forbes contributor Steve Odland. “You have to clearly differentiate your organization, and hopefully stimulate the same kind of passion in potential donors to your charity that you have for it yourself.”

The Legal Stuff

With your mission statement in hand, it’s time to deal with the not so fun part: the law. There are a few legal matters you need to see to before your nonprofit can get off the ground. Since we’re not lawyers and you should flesh this out with the help of one, we’ll keep this section brief.

First, you need to decide what type of organization your charity will be. This will impact what documents you have to fill out in order to register, as well as what specific laws apply to you.

“[Non-profit organizations] can take the form of a corporation, an individual enterprise, unincorporated association, partnership, foundation (distinguished by its endowment by a founder, it takes the form of a trusteeship), or condominium (joint ownership of common areas),” reads a Cornell Law document.

Given that different states have different laws regarding nonprofits, it is advised that you look on your state’s website and speak with a lawyer for more information.

Get Established Online

Once you’ve gotten all the legal issues out of the way, you’re going to want to create a website. There are currently over three billion Internet users in the world – and counting. If your nonprofit doesn’t have a website, it’s not going to be able to connect with potential donors, volunteers, and trustees.

“In this golden age of technology, the website has become a prerequisite for businesses, artists, and all other kinds of entities,” reads an article on the Tennyson Insurance website. “It is no different for charities and community organizations. The general public now depend on the internet for a lot of their shopping, entertainment, and daily life. If you’re not on the internet, it can be very hard for people to find and connect with you. In short, not being on the web limits you to being physical, and unlike a website, you can’t be everywhere at once.”

Plan For The Future

Finally, you need to think about the future. Once your nonprofit is founded, where is it going to go? What will happen to it when you’re no longer around to manage it?

To that end, there are a few things you need to see to (Via Forbes):

  • Establish an advisory board. This board should include significant donors, potential donors, trustees, and people with fundraising contacts.
  • Draw up a five year plan, including marketing strategies, fundraising strategies, events, and how changes in management will be handled.
  • Set up a recordkeeping system, with organized paperwork for every facet of your nonprofit.

Closing Thoughts

Running a charity can be one of the most rewarding things in the world, provided you play your cards right. Now that you’re aware of the basics, you’re ready to set out and found your own nonprofit – ready to change the world for the better. Good luck, and godspeed.

Need custom printed shirts or clothes for a charity event? Upload your own slogans and logos, or design your own, right here in our design studio.

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