Volunteering for a cause can be a really rewarding experience. If you wish to go one step ahead, starting your own organisation is truly the best way to make a difference. Today, many people are establishing nonprofit organisations to solve issues that concern children, women, senior citizens, the environment and so on. Running a non-profit organisation (NPO), as with any other company, is not as easy as it may sound. So what does it really take to start one? It’s important to understand the difference between a non-profit or not-for-profit-organisation (NPO) and a non-governmental organisation (NGO). While an NGO relies on government-raised funds, an NPO uses its extra funds for the purpose of the organisation. It’s quicker to make an impact if you establish an NPO over an NGO as it eliminates all bureaucratic procedures. Establishing an NGO can be an extremely timeconsuming process, whereas NPOs have relatively less paperwork and interference involved.
It really helps if you have previous experience at an established NGO or NPO. Only then will you learn the nitty-gritty details of such organisations. From learning about fund collections and drives, to marketing and sponsorships, it helps to volunteer before venturing out on your own. You’ll need to balance out your budget; so gather all the experience you can before you even think of a social start-up. You should also work for different kinds of organisations and get exposure to the various departments including fieldwork and administration.
According to 16-year-old Sana Khan, co-founder, Dear Imagination, a not-for-profit organisation that offers a creative platform for underprivileged children, “It is difficult to start an NPO, regardless of what age you may be. I’d encourage people to join existing organisations and use them as platforms to make an impact.”
Step 1: Decide your goal
Are you concerned about the environment and need the support of those around you to implement remedial measures? Whatever it is that you want to do, it is clear that you wish to ‘give back’ in some way to meet a need that exists and to perhaps enjoy a more fulfilling career path. What you want to accomplish and within what timeframe are questions that need to be addressed. The aim of an NPO is to make some sort of change or to eventually make a problem obsolete. As Lao Tsu once said, “The leader’s main job is to make themselves obsolete.” Becoming obsolete should be the main aim of all NPOs that wish to do away with an issue. A mission statement will give your organisation a defined purpose. It can be as specific as reducing the amount of electricity consumed in a day or as broad as alleviating illiteracy in a particular area.
Step 2: Gather like-minded people
It’s not easy to start an NPO alone. Funds, manpower and ideas are needed. You’ll need to form a committee of board members, which as serious as it may sound, is just a core group of people who start up the NPO. To gather volunteers, spread the word amongst your friends, who might gladly be willing to help out for a cause. Graphic designers can help create awareness material, while event managers could help with hosting small events. It’s important to form a committed and diverse team who believe in the cause and will readily be able to bring new ideas to the table.
Step 3: Make a plan of action
You may know why and what issue you want to address, but have you figured out how to go about doing it?You must know how you intend to pull off your mission. It doesn’t have to be original; it just needs to be an effective plan. Be organised and put down your plan on paper, draw up all the charts you need to figure out things and brainstorm with your team of volunteers. Be sure that you are able to follow up with whatever you start.
Step 4: Sort out the legal mumbo jumbo
While it may not be as much fun as the actual work, navigating through the legal process is vital during the start-up phase. In most cases, you’ll need to set up a non-profit corporation in your home state and apply for 501(c) (3) federal tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. While it may be a tedious process filling out the intimidating 28-page application form, it will help you to solidify your organisation’s activities.
Step 5: Assess your financial needs
You might not earn a single rupee from the social work you do, but a minimal amount of money is needed to run the organisation. Fundraisers and donations are means to bring funds in. For this to happen, you need to put out your organisation’s cause in the clearest way possible. People need to believe in your cause and only then will they want to help.
Step 6: Measuring results
No matter what you plan to do – whether it’s educating street children, helping underprivileged women, taking care of stray animals or even spreading awareness about breast cancer – you need to come up with a concrete method to measure the success of your initiative. You need to know if the NPO has created an impact or not. Thus, you first need to determine a barometer so that you don’t eventually lose track of your organisation’s objectives. One needs to measure the change and not the activities. This is the goal of development.
Step 7: Network, network, network!
Networking is important before you establish the NPO as well as during the post-start-up phase. Keeping in touch with people in the same line of social work really helps. Past mistakes and successes can be learnt from. Utilising social media networks is a good way to enjoy a wider reach for your cause. It’s also never too early to start a website as it helps to attract volunteers, spread the word, announce events, and more importantly, to broadcast the main aim of your organisation.
Anyone with a desire to make a difference can effectively start an NPO. Enthusiasm, zest and passion for the cause, coupled with a strong belief that your organisation can make a change, forms the foundation of an NPO. As long as you keep sight of the organisation’s goals and have your intentions in place, there is no telling what you can achieve!
Volume 1 Issue 7