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Dreaming of starting your own nonprofit organization?

Jean Larsen

Executive Director

Legacy Endowment Community Foundation

In my career, I’ve been asked “what does it take to start up and run a nonprofit organization?” more times than I can count. I know this question comes from a deeply heartfelt place, asked by someone who is dreaming of the opportunity to make a lasting impact or to create a positive change from something they’ve experienced.

Such inspirational planning can range from supplying cuddly soft teddy bears to every child entering a hospital emergency department to making the kind of mega-sized donations that helps solve a baffling medical mystery.

It is not at all unusual for such motivation to be associated with a person’s experience in life, and it can be incredibly healing to contemplate these ideas during any kind of life crisis or grieving process. I have no doubt that within the scope of our basic human nature is a fundamental desire to help others avoid the pain, loss, sadness, and suffering that we have felt.

Many people are surprised to find starting a nonprofit organization can be rather easy. You send some forms to the IRS to create a 501 organization to obtain an EIN number, do some rudimentary corralling of resources and people to form a board, and you are on your way.

If the financial assets are under a certain dollar threshold every year, you can file a basic 990 postcard tax return that doesn’t require a whole lot of effort. Clearly, when considering the 1.8 million IRS-registered nonprofit organizations that are currently fulfilling humanitarian, societal, and artistic interests as diverse as anyone can possibly imagine, the indomitable spirit of inspired charitable giving is alive and well.

What is not an effortless easy button to push is the long game of fulfilling the dream. In its first year, leading a new nonprofit can be packed with equal measure of excitement and anxiety. There will be great anticipation for all that can be carried out while also working through unfamiliar concepts, plus tackling governance, and organizational processes.

And then, there will be the fiscal maintenance and recurring management tasks. Frankly, it’s this part of running a nonprofit which is very much like running a small to mid-sized business, but even more so with specific compliance requirements to stay in the state’s and government’s good graces. Oftentimes, this is when the luster of the nonprofit dream wears off quickly. Statistics prove that it’s usually within the first year or two that most nonprofits stall or fail completely.

Thankfully, in recent years, there’s been the development of several excellent and affordable online/remote courses available to the public. It’s well worth the investment of time to discover whether your dream of developing your own nonprofit is achievable and sustainable.

For example, San Diego State University offers a six-week course for a reasonable $147. Their course content covers: Why do you want to start a nonprofit, the roles/responsibilities of a Board of Directors, governing documents, writing your mission statement, the final steps to obtaining your nonprofit status, creating your first budget, planning for success, fundraising options, marketing and media relations, and internet/social media outreach.

These are the fixed pillars of nonprofit management, of which the absence of one or several will be contributing factors for a stall-out.

So, how do you pursue the freedom and flexibility of fulfilling your dream and making impactful changes for others without the fuss, compliance, and oversight of a nonprofit start-up, you ask? This is where community foundations play an important role, as they offer all the infrastructure pillars needed to fulfill someone’s vision of making a difference, without their having to do it all by creating a nonprofit.

Unique to community foundations is the ability for these 501(c)3 organizations to create “special initiative” funds, delivering on all the overarching goals that put dreams into action. By starting such a fund and being the fund holder or fund advisor, distributions from the fund can be made in the form of grants that support a specific program or service, covering a wide variety of interests.

Even more intriguing, developing special initiative funds can become a community-wide catalyst, creating a collaboration between several (or more) nonprofit organizations who bring all their resources to bear to solve larger problems.

Legacy Endowment Community Foundation is the North County resource that is helping individuals carry out “dream big” goals, offering the same great feeling of making a lasting impact without having to manage an entirely new nonprofit.

For some individuals, leading your own nonprofit will be the best answer and an extremely rewarding experience; I know many individuals who thrive within this type of nonprofit model. However, using a Community Foundation like Legacy Endowment may serve the same purpose with less paperwork and mundane oversight.

This much I know, for those who are feeling inspired and motivated to create a lasting and positive change in the world, you have the kind of intrepid spirit that put men on the moon. Such noble aspirations are to be encouraged and to that end, we will always be here to offer guidance, mentoring, information, helping turn your plans into action.

 

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