As the two-year anniversary of my nonprofit organization approaches in August 2020, I've spent some time reflecting on the important lessons that I've learned throughout my journey of starting + managing a nonprofit organization. Here are 5 of the most important things I learned about starting a nonprofit.
1. Don't hesitate to send that email.
After initially conceiving the idea of starting my own nonprofit, I decided it would be best to reach out to well-established organizations with similar missions and gain expertise/ knowledge from them on how to grow my organization, as well as possibly securing a partnership in one or more of our programs.
I sent 100+ emails out to all kinds of organizations from around the world. Did I receive a response back? Nope. Was I disappointed? Of course. But I didn't let that stop me. I found one more opportunity for me to be able to collaborate with an organization, but I was hesitant at first. Then I told myself, "what are you going to lose by sending the email?" So I did, and I ended up getting a response that changed the whole course of my organization after that. So, send that email! The worst they can do is say no or not reply.
2. Make a detailed & precise plan.
When I first started my nonprofit organization at 13, I had no idea where to begin. Did I have a platform? No. A basic idea of what starting a nonprofit even entailed? Kinda. A plan on how to get myself and my nonprofit more out there? Without a doubt.
I knew I had to make a detailed impact plan on how my organization would work- what values we would encompass, what programs we would have, goals for my organization, and how we would achieve those goals. I planned out how to recruit a team, what skills I need to learn before going into the field, what things I should take into account, and more. I made a 10-page long Google Docs document with all of my information for growing my organization laid out. I'm not saying you have to do that, but making a document is very helpful.
3. Network, network, network!
My organization expanded globally after I secured sustainable partnerships with organizations that were equally passionate about this issue as much as I was. However, I wouldn't have been able to establish these partnerships if it weren't for networking. Networking not only helps you establish partnerships, but it also helps you get your name out there. Apply for different opportunities to showcase your work with your organization, and speak about what you do with your organization- only then will you be able to get your message out there and show people why they should get involved in your cause.
Learning about things like cold emailing and social media marketing is crucial for your organization's success. Without proper knowledge on topics like these, it might be a little more difficult to grow your organization. Remember- you're trying to show the world why they should support your organization & cause- and you'll be up against hundreds and thousands of other organizations with similar missions trying to do the same thing. What makes YOUR organization stand out? And why should people donate to YOUR organization?
4. Don't focus on getting 501(c)(3) status in the beginning.
Getting 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status is a huge feat for many organizations. However, the process to getting one is long and tedious. Instead of focusing on getting 501(c)(3) status at the initial stages of your organization, focus more on impacting people and growing your programs + reach. After you feel your organization is at the right stage, you should then apply for tax-exempt status.
5. Establish sustainable partnerships.
Like I stated earlier, establishing partnerships with dedicated and like-minded organizations is crucial to your organization's success. If you're trying to build your organization from a ground-up, it would be a lot harder to do so without the help of more well-established organizations. If you want to expand your organization globally, it's also important to reach out to organizations around the globe, and if you're a youth-run organization (like mine!), it helps to reach out to other youth-run organizations and establish a partnership.
Establishing a nonprofit organization is hard work. But in the end, it's worth it to see the impact you're making in the cause that you care about. I'm only 15, and I do have a long way ahead of me with my nonprofit. However, the things I have learned while managing my nonprofit are things that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.
PS- If you're curious to learn more about my nonprofit organization, email me at email@example.com, or check out our website at www.collegepathwayus.org. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for general inquiries.