My #1 most asked question by Founders goes like this: I have my 501(c)3! Now what? Founders have jumped through all the hoops of getting the idea in their head to an idea on paper but how do you get it from paper to reality? Most Founders I talk to have never worked for a Nonprofit so they have no idea how the behind the scenes work. No matter if its a business or a Nonprofit you are starting, there is a lot of work that has to be done. Once the Founder begins to figure it out, it is overwhelming and can be discouraging. They begin to doubt the idea. I hear the desperation and fatigue in Founder’s voices as they ask the question, “Now what”? My nine steps build the infrastructure that leads to funding- addressing the two reasons nonprofits fail in their first year. While every Nonprofit has its own way of doing things, I put together the basics of every Nonprofit in these nine steps:
Step One: Set Up Your Board The very first thing you want to do is set up your Board. Why? Because you no longer have to do it all by yourself. Pick people with the same vision and passion as your Nonprofit. Make sure your Board is a good mix of talents! You will need a variety in the next year to see your Nonprofit on its feet. Right now, you have to have a Board willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Not glamorous work but real foundation laying stuff. Be clear that this work will mean about ten hours a month outside of Board meetings to accomplish getting the organization functional. Later, the Board should transition to a more oversight and big picture managerial role. This will happen when you hire your first employees. Until then, your Board has to recognize they are volunteer staff.
Step Two: Strategic Plan Next, figure out who you are as an organization and where you are going. Dream a little in this step. Where do you want to be in five years or ten? This will be your road map from point A to point B. It will be updated periodically so don’t feel your ideas are set in absolute stone. Strategic Plans change. They should change to meet the needs of the clients and the organization. But you need a direction right now- things to strive for. A 5 Year Strategic Plan is often a frequently asked for document by funders when you are new. It also helps you and your Board get on the same page and understand who you are, where you are going, and how to get there.
Step Three: Tactical Plan and Budget Here, the rubber meets the road as they say. Take the big dream of the Strategic Plan and break it down to Year One in the Tactical Plan. What goals are you wanting to accomplish this year? What action items need to be done to reach your goals? What is your timeline to accomplish the steps to reach your milestones and goals? Don’t forget to budget your action steps! (And this step should be done every year following the latest Strategic Plan). This step helps you and your Board manage your to-dos for a year. You need your Operational Budget created even if it’s just an estimate because, in order to do good, you have to figure out how to pay for it.
Step Four: Program Development Develop a program to meet your organization’s purpose. The program should fall in line with your Mission Statement and Strategic Plan. You will put together a plan that will help you begin forming relationships to receive grants in your third year (along with your 5-Year Strategic Plan). Make sure you have measurable outcomes!
Step Five: Create Your Nonprofit Management Systems A system is a written set of rules that all Board Members, Staff, and Volunteers will have to follow. They are put in place to comply with regulations set by the IRS, best Accounting practices, and organizational policies. What systems will you need? Your program will need a set of systems to function. Anything that has a process or that you need accountability for you will need to put a system in writing.
Step Six: Define Your Ideal Donor Who is most likely to give to your organization? Define who that person is. What do they do for a living? What do they do in their free time? What makes them unique? What ties them all together? Write down your Donor Persona(s).
Step Seven: Create Your Fundraising/Marketing Systems These systems are different than Step Five. Step Five’s systems revolved around managing your Nonprofit. The systems in Step Seven revolve around your donors. How will you communicate with your donors? Who will be responsible for that communication? How will you take donations? What steps do you need to take for accountability? What systems do the IRS require for you to keep your tax exempt status?
Step Eight: Website and Social Media Now the fun stuff! (Says the Fundraising/Marketing professional!) You need a professional looking website with an online giving option and at least one social media platform. I would suggest Facebook since it is the largest. The first thing people look for when trying to decide on giving to an organization is the website and its social media- professionally looking and executed. These two things lend credibility to your organization.
Step Nine: Fundraising Basics This is the step where you put your foundation in place to attract donors. You begin list building and awareness activities. You begin to find ways to raise money. As you may know about me, I don’t like to leave anyone without some real action steps you can put in place today. I’ve created A New Nonprofit’s 9 Step Action Guide to a Successful Nonprofit. The link to the free download is below. I go into more detail about the steps and give you Action Items to check off plus some recommended reading on each subject. The guide is broken into Nonprofit Management and Fundraising/Marketing Steps. I tell you when you can work on steps simultaneously and when you need to complete a step to start another. Building a Nonprofit takes time but, with a plan, you can speed up the process and know you are on the right track as you work toward a functioning organization.
Want to go deeper than this post? The book I Have My 501(c)3! Now What?!? Your Blueprint to Starting Your Nonprofit Without Being the Sole Funder by Alesha Mathis is available now on Amazon.