Creating a Non-Profit
The Importance of Building a Solid Foundation
During this time of year I tend to be reflective and as such thought I would share a bit of the background of SpeakArtLoud. We are a young organization so our history is brief, but by sharing this I hope to give readers an idea of what goes into starting a non-profit organization.
It was just about this time, two years back, when I was thinking about starting SpeakArtLoud.
At the time I was unhappy in my day job. On a whim I signed up to attend Local Agenda , a 12-week program designed to help people create positive and sustainable change by becoming social entrepreneurs, offered by Springboard Innovation. I did not go into this workshop planning to start a non-profit, I just knew I had more to offer the world and that I wanted to be around others who cared about doing good work in the community.
Once a week, sitting in an evening workshop, I learned about social entrepreneurship and connecting with others who had innovative ideas and were interested in meaningful work. Slowly I started to put my ideas together and I began to entertain the idea of possibly starting a non-profit organization.
A lot of what goes into building a sustainable organization is not particularly exciting, but it is necessary. While it is important to have a good idea and wonderful to want to give something back, starting an organization also takes a lot of what I would call “stick-to-it-tiveness”.
Sticking with this through all the steps that are tedious or not immediately rewarding – tax documents, program evaluation techniques and logging volunteer hours – is not especially fun but it is important. It is this early planning and organizing that helps create a solid foundation.
Steps Along the Way
Now, two years after the initial spark of an idea, SpeakArtLoud is in development. It is slow going but looking back I realize how much this small, all-volunteer organization has been able to put into place. We have done a lot of work in building our foundation.
Here are a few of the steps and lessons from my journey:
Share Your Passion
- Talk with others about what you care about, what you want to do, and what you have to offer.
- A non-profit needs someone who can convey their passion and ideas to others.
- I am learning how to better express myself, how to be bolder and share my passion, and the more I work on SpeakArtLoud the more passionate I am about our mission.
Build a Team
- Connect with others who you feel comfortable with; Have honest conversations, share ideas and ask lots of questions.
- A non-profit needs a board of at least 3 people, ask those who you can work with, who are dependable and willing to roll up their sleeves to serve on the board.
- Our board members have different backgrounds and sometimes we disagree, but we appreciate our different perspectives and respect one anothers ideas.
Mission and Vision
- Discuss what it is you are focusing on doing (your mission) and what the long-term goal is (vision).
- A non-profit’s mission and vision will shape the work of the organization, so have lots and lots of conversations about this.
- Our board has had long conversations about the word empower in our mission statement, we still revisit that topic from time to time.
- Complete required legal documents after you have your board in place and mission and vision finalized.
- A non-profit needs to file legal documents with the state and federal government and will need to reference board members and mission statements in the documents.
- I am learning more than I care to about legal requirements and have become practiced in keeping good records of our documents.
- Develop written documents to record how the organization will operate; Start by outlining the program, the evaluation plan, potential partners, the communication plan and the annual schedule for board meetings.
- A non-profit needs written operational documents and plans in place (plus, if the board wins the lottery and moves to Tahiti someone else can step in and continue the good work we’ve started).
- I am learning (as I go) what information needs to be documented and how to best create operational materials.
Ask for Help
- Let others know when you need assistance; No one does this alone.
- A non-profit needs to support from the community and from volunteers; Engaging others strengthens the organization.
- I have learned how to ask for help (though it is still hard to do) and have been surprised to learn that people really do want to help; Asking for help has given me a chance to connect with some really amazing people!
For more information on non-profit development: