You Can Do It, Too: How to Start a Non Profit Organization

As a person leaps while rock climbing, it may seem impossible but you can learn how to start a non profit organization all on your own!

Contributed by Tiffany Silverberg

Have you always dreamed of changing the world? Do you have an idea that you just can’t shake? Are you certain that you can make a difference in the lives of those around you if you just had the resources, opportunities, and infrastructure necessary to make your dream a reality? Developing a non profit organization might be the key to your success. If you want to know how to start a non profit, here are a few tips to get you going.



The first question to ask yourself before starting a non profit, or anything for that matter, is “Why?” Why does the community or world need your non profit organization? Why is a non profit structure the best for your idea? Why are you the best person to undertake this task? Understanding your own motivation will give you clear vision as you fill out paperwork, apply for permits, and request help in setting up your non profit.


Do the Research

Because many non profit organizations are essentially tax exempt small businesses, you will want to learn the rules and regulations for local businesses. Depending on your non profit plans and structure, you may need apply for a business license and other permits. If you aren’t sure how to start a non profit, contact other non profits who are local and serve a similar purpose. The founders of those organizations can point you in the right direction.



In addition to local, state, or industry specific applications, you will also be required to apply for a 501c3 or other tax exempt status from the IRS, in order to set up your new non profit organization. The application process starts with a Form 1023 series available on the IRS website. This must be done within 27 months of the start of the organization. After the application is filed, the IRS will review the application and determine if it qualifies for exempt status. Because of the time sensitivity, the length of the application, and the benefit of a tax status, you should start the application process as early as possible.


Structure in Place

One of the requirements for a nonprofit organization is a board of directors. Your application will ask for a list of names, affiliations, and meetings. More more importantly than reporting your board, these will be the people who will guide your non profit through its earliest days and biggest decisions. You will want to choose people who understand your mission and align with your goal. You will also want people who can oversee your business practices with a critical eye and navigate you through the difficult early stages.



Organizations such as the local U.S. Small Business Administration can offer direction for how to start a non profit. They will have local information, such as the business licenses that you might need, as well as help with your 501c3 or other tax exemption applications. You might also find assistance from professional organizations, such as the Veterans Administration or National Association of Women Business Owners. You might also connect with your local Chamber of Commerce for more specific information.


Maintain Support

From day one, you and your non profit will rely on the support of those around you. You will need to share information, updates, and requests with those in your own network and encourage them to share as well. Once you have been accepted as a tax exempt organization, your network will be able to receive a tax break for their donations. In the meantime, keep your mind on the mission and make sure others understand what you are trying to accomplish as well. Together you can all make the world a better place.