Many people responding to my posts here and on Facebook are just starting out with their nonprofit. It may seem hard to prioritize the many needed actions. Therefore, this post focuses on: what is key if you are just starting out with your nonprofit? What are important things to get sorted first?
Vision, mission, value statement
First of all, you must define what it is you want to do. What will your nonprofit be here on earth for? What are you going to get fixed, make better, protect, serve or maintain? Once you have clarity on this, you can formulate a vision, mission, value statement. One piece of A4 paper with your nonprofit in a nutshell, written in a way that speaks to the community you serve and those that will help you on your way. (If you do not have your vision, mission and value statement in place yet, you might want to go through my free mini course Build a Solid Base for your nonprofit, see here).
It can help if you can engage others to work with you on this, people who share your goals and dreams at least to a certain extent. If you do not know these people yet, maybe friends or family members can help in brainstorming and getting ideas formulated. This can be OK in the first stage, when you are working out your vision, mission and values.
You will need board members when you will register. And you will need a board to get going and stay on track with your implementation. So, you need to start looking for good people that can help you make your organization a success. Even though you can do some of the steps yourself or with help of friends who are committed to you, you will need to go out and find good people to grow a team around your cause. Speak to everyone in your network about what you are working on. Make them enthusiastic to join you in your mission. See if you can invite people to help out with simple tasks.
In addition to your vision, mission and value statement you need to define your strategic priorities, your key areas of work, for the coming three years. Logically, one or two strategic directions will focus on your key objectives and on what you aim to achieve in regard of these in the next three years. What impact can you realistically and ambitiously generate in the next three years when it comes to your mission?
Make sure you dedicate one strategic direction to development of your organization. After all, this is the backbone that is needed to make sure all your work can be done effectively, properly, successfully, reliably and accountably.
Set up of your organization
Once you are clear on what you are here to do and what your key areas of work are for the coming three years you must think about the best set up for your organization. Will it be a nonprofit? Are there going to be members who govern the organization? Or will there be an appointed board with a managing director? Will it be a social enterprise? Or a company? These choices inform the details you must elaborate in your constitution or articles of association. If you can, connect with similar initiatives in your community or working in the same field. Ask them how they are set up, what has worked well for them and what they would do differently next time.
For registration you need to prepare the necessary paperwork. What that is, depends on your choices for the set up of your organization as well as on your local context. What is legally and practically required or best practice in your community and country? You can at the very least expect that you need to prepare a constitution for your organization. This documents describes, in legalese, the objectives of your organization, how your organization is set up, who governs it and how, what is to be done in certain exceptional cases, and what will happen in case your organization needs to close down.
You can usually find templates or examples of such documents online or at a local registrar’s office, and you can ask around for samples, too. These documents are usually officially drawn up and filed by a notary, after signing by the founders.
When you are going through the above steps with a team, some may want to be the board members registering the organization. Make sure they know what will be required of them. What are responsibilities of the different board positions and the board as a whole? When will their term end?
If you do not have a team yet, you must prioritize building one for (and before) creating your nonprofit. Because you will need board members to register your organization and you will need a board to keep the organization on track (see also here). Tell everyone in your network you are looking for board members to help you make your dream come true. You may also decide to advertise vacancies and do ‘job’ interviews, thus expanding your network in a different way.
First coordinator or managing director
Finally, you need to identify a person who can coordinate the work of the nonprofit in the start-up phase, mandated by the board to manage the day-to-day operations. This person needs to:
- Find and hire free of charge or cheap labour and build a team that will help develop and implement the plan of action
- Develop a plan of action for the coming 1-2 years in line with the strategic priorities, together with team and board
- Develop internal systems, policies and mechanisms so that the organization can be accountable and professional in implementing the plan of action and inspire trust from donors in the team and the work
- Raise funds from a variety of sources to implement the plan of action
- Manage the team, the systems and the money
After a while, the focus of the coordinator changes and the role may change to being more of a managing director, delegating tasks and responsibilities to a growing team.
Sometimes people creating a nonprofit feel compelled to become the first board president, coordinator or managing director. This is not an obligation! In fact, you should consider either of these positions only if you feel you are a good fit for them. And if you are sure you will enjoy doing it. Do a job interview with yourself to be sure about this, before offering out loud. Being in the wrong position can cause your nonprofit dream a great deal of harm, and may actually turn your dream into a nightmare for yourself, too. Don’t make this so!
Want to know more and ask questions?
Then join my Facebook group how to become a professional and resilient nonprofit with Suzanne Bakker here. In this group we will create a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.