How to Start a Nonprofit from Scratch
By Jessa Racoma in Blog Blog | 9 minute read

So, after months, maybe even years, of mulling over the idea to start a charity and help the community, you’ve finally decided to take a leap of faith and venture into the nonprofit world.

Congratulations are indeed in order! This is definitely a commendable and bold move.

Nonprofit organizations all over the world are an integral part of today’s society. Their immense and much-needed contribution and support continue to bring phenomenal change to needy communities globally.

However, this support, which contributed over $1 trillion to the US economy in 2016, is never enough, and more is always needed and welcome. This is despite the over one million nonprofit organizations that are operating in the US alone today.

What Exactly Is a Nonprofit and How Does it Operate?

A nonprofit is an entity that qualifies for tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service because it furthers a social cause and provides a public benefit. A nonprofit accepts donations and is not required to pay tax on the donations or any other monetary earnings through fundraising activities.

A nonprofit is more or less like a business. The only difference is that the founder(s) do not profit from the organization but the satisfaction they derive from helping other people makes it worth the time, effort, and investment.

Nonprofits are a great way to give back to the community. But getting started and achieving your mission are not easy tasks.

Unlike starting a normal business, starting a nonprofit can be a bit more demanding, especially if you are not fully conversant with the process. If you want to start a nonprofit organization to help your community and you would like some help, then you are in the right place.

In this article, we will highlight the initial steps that you need to take even as you prepare to join the charity bandwagon. The objective is to hook you up with handy tips that will set you on the right path and make your journey as interesting and fulfilling as possible.

6 Steps to Start a Nonprofit from Scratch

Research the Nonprofit Industry

Just like starting any project, it is crucial that you do your homework by extensively researching your topic or idea. The last thing you want is to start something you know very little about. It really doesn’t matter if you are driven by passion, research is a non-negotiable process unless you don’t want to succeed.

Despite it not being a conventional business, it is advisable that you conduct market research. Consider this as your foundation. From the onset, you need to know your target audience or in this case, the people that will benefit from your organization as well as your competition (other nonprofits in your niche). This information will ultimately give your nonprofit a competitive edge once it’s up and running.

Researching will help you to identify a unique need within your community that you can make meaningful contributions and impact. It will also be easier to fundraise since you will not be duplicating other charities.

Identify and Set Your Objectives

Your nonprofit must have a purpose from the get-go. As you come up with your strategy, it’s equally important that you highlight your objective both short and long-term. With a handful of donors and well-wishers out there, your objectives will need to be compelling enough to convince donors that your nonprofit really need their support.

As you create your objectives, ensure that they are in line with the aspirations and goals of your target donor community. Donors often support or align their businesses to causes they care about. Making sure that your goals and objectives are easily relatable will open up opportunities to raise the much-needed funds to support your charity activities.

Set Your Mission and Vision

Just like any other organization, a mission and mission statement is also important. Why? Donors want you to be clear about how you plan to effect change in the community you want to help. For them, this is crucial for transparency and accountability. Remember, they are “investing” in your cause, and in return, they would like to be in a position to explain to their shareholders how the funds were spent as part of their corporate social responsibility.

Therefore, your statements need to be super clear, relatable, relevant, and sincere. To ensure that it is a shared statement across the organization, it is critical that you involve everyone when crafting the statements. This way, you enhance loyalty within your nonprofit organization and most importantly, create brand ambassadors.

Develop a Solid Nonprofit Business Plan

A business plan is an important and strategic tool for any new business venture. It will help you to stay focused on the necessary steps that you need to take to make your idea succeed. It will also help you achieve your objectives as well as overcome challenges along the way. With a good nonprofit business plan, you will be able to make informed decisions as well as avoid costly mistakes.

Nonprofit executive summary

Image Source: Aplos

It also helps you to paint the bigger picture of how exactly you plan to turn your vision into a successful nonprofit organization. In the process, you’ll also be able to prove the viability of your idea from concept to reality.

Your plan, therefore, needs to include factors such as the organization overview, operation plan, market and competitive analysis, target audience, how you plan to raise the initial capital to launch the organization, your projected expenditure and target donors.

Incorporate Your Nonprofit and File for Tax Exemption

The most important phase in the nonprofit setup process is getting the right paperwork. Just like a normal business, you need the relevant paperwork to operate. If you are in the United States, for instance, you need to apply for 501(c)(3), which is a specific tax category for nonprofit organizations.

specific tax category for nonprofit organizations.

Image Source: Global Giving

You will also be required to fill in Form 990, which is the annual tax paperwork. Since the process of getting all this paperwork is quite tedious, it is advisable that you seek the help of a legal expert to help you navigate the compliance process.

Embrace Social Media and Email Marketing

Part of your day-to-day activities will be to look for donors and volunteers to help you achieve your objectives. Marketing is, therefore, crucial for getting the word out.

And as you deploy other marketing activities, you also need to fully embrace the power of social media marketing. Most of your volunteers will be found via social media.

Your donors are usually tech-savvy and will most likely find you via your social media accounts. This is why you need a strong social media strategy in place to help you create awareness, share your impact, inspire action, build communities and generate buzz around your fundraising activities. Just don’t forget to add donation buttons just in case someone wants to donate to your cause via social media.


Image Source: Hootsuite

Another equally effective marketing tactic that can help your nonprofit succeed is email marketing. Since you’ll be collecting data in the form of email addresses during your fundraising activities, it will be easier for your marketing team to share relevant communication via email at regular intervals.

Building a Foundation for Long-Term Nonprofit Success

Starting a nonprofit from scratch can be a daunting process, especially if you don’t have a strong foundation. Finding the right team, supportive partners and a solid relationship with the community can be extremely difficult, time-consuming, and costly.

However, this entire process should be high on your agenda. This makes productivity a critical factor to the success of your life-changing project.

This is why it is highly recommended that you put the right systems in place from day one. This includes identifying specific tasks that can be automated so that your team can focus on mission-critical tasks first and fast.

Tasks such as email, social media, and content scheduling, responding to queries, meeting appointment reminders, among others should be automated to enhance productivity and efficiency.

As part of your automation process, you should also seriously consider using tools such as Salesforce to help you streamline your marketing activities, Mailchimp to help you keep in touch with your partners and volunteers, or Constant Contact to help you monitor your email marketing activities. To ensure that your activities remain effective, efficient, and most importantly, do not go over the budget, you should integrate these tools immediately after launching your nonprofit.

Using a tried-and-tested partner like SyncApps, your integration platforms will help you to significantly cut down costs from day one. Since most of the tasks will be synchronized, there will be no need to hire extra staff.

top nonprofits integration

Some of the notable SyncApps integrations that have continued to power nonprofits include Mailchimp for Dynamics 365, which will help you to track your return on investment at the campaign level as well as closely monitor the progress on your most recent email campaigns.

Constant Contact for Salesforce is also another must-have integration, which is great for engaging your prospects, clients, and partners in real-time. With this platform, your team will not need to manually import or export data hence eliminating errors and duplication not to mention saving you a dozen man-hours every month, which can cost the organization funds it desperately needs to serve the community.

Not sure you have the budget for integration? No problem! It’s free to start an account with SyncApps. Some of the biggest nonprofit organizations in the world have used our free tier for years before switching to a paid version. Like UNICEF, for instance.

Plus, ALL nonprofits get a 50% discount on ALL our plans. Start here and enjoy free integration for as long as you need it.


Starting a nonprofit might look super difficult at first but with the right idea, strategy, and of course, guide and tools, the process to get one started can be painless and fulfilling.

Need more help with nonprofit marketing ideas? Check out our free guide for nonprofits — you’ll find inspiration from dozens of nonprofits from all over the world.

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