Tips for Starting Your Own Nonprofit
Luke Smith

We live in a time where not only are there ample opportunities to start a business, there is a greater emphasis than ever for supporting social and environmental causes in general. In fact, according to a recent study, 51% of Millennials and 55% of Gen Xers gave money to nonprofits in 2018. Because of this, you can exercise your business acumen and make a difference in the world by starting your own non-profit organization.

It’s not always as simple as choosing a cause and announcing your intentions to the world, though. There are essential elements to put in place before you get going; business plans, solidifying the company structure, legislative hurdles to overcome, and so on. Though there will be a social and ethical mission behind your enterprise, you still have to approach it with the same drive to succeed as any other startup.

So, what are some of the key areas that you need to focus on as you get your nonprofit off the ground? Are there tools and strategies that can help set you and your mission on a strong path to success? Let’s take a look at a handful of helpful tips.

1. Gaining Resources

The nature of nonprofits means you’re unable to offer investors a share of financial gains; this can make obtaining capital challenging. That said, loans can still be a viable option for non-profit entrepreneurs. Though many banks use profit potential as a gauge of borrowers’ ability to repay, there are still ways that you can make your nonprofit a more attractive risk:

  • Demonstrate Income Diversity. Provide a business plan that shows your nonprofit won’t be entirely dependent upon donations. Show how you’re implementing other sources of income such as merchandise sales or consultancy engagements. Show how you’ll be innovative in generating passive income; for example, Denver Food Rescue found success in licensing their proprietary excess food distribution mobile app to urban agriculture organizations, gardeners, and other nonprofits.

  • Improve Your Credit Rating. Much like in taking out a personal loan, having poor credit can affect your ability to obtain business capital. Though you can still technically get a loan with bad credit, chances are you’ll be subject to higher interest rates. As part of preparations building up to financing your new business, put some time into repairing your bad credit, and make good financial practices a habit.

  • Use a Specialist Lender. Focus your search around lenders that are either geared toward nonprofits or more likely to engage with them. Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are generally local lenders who are partly federally funded and focused on providing loans to individuals and organizations that support community development. It’s also worth investigating non-profit loan funds in your area.

If you’ve already registered your nonprofit for 501(c)(3) status, you may also be eligible for federal or state grants to help with project financing, or operating costs, among others. You should contact large local businesses to inquire about their giving policies, as part of their approach to corporate social responsibility. Aside from cash donations, some may even offer other resources, including access to office space, or providing their staff to your organization on paid release days.

2. Adopting Smart Tools

As a burgeoning non-profit startup, you’re unlikely to have a lot of capital to throw around. Every cent must be squeezed for its maximum potential. As such, it’s important to adopt the use of tools that are designed to improve efficiency and minimize overhead.

Over the past decade or so, a range of volunteer management apps have been developed with nonprofits in mind. Some are free for smaller organizations, others have plans based on the services you require. Most have the ability to create, edit, and share calendars, as well as send reminders to volunteers. Others offer more niche options, such as Better Impact which tracks volunteers based on abilities and interests, and Galaxy Digital which provides real-time updates on activities.

Financial tools are a must, particularly for smaller nonprofits that may only be able to engage accountants on a limited basis. Some of these can be simple; utilize online invoice templates that you can customize to your needs, rather than spending time and resources developing them from scratch. Produce standard dockets for each service you provide and make these shareable via the cloud. Many accountancy software platforms also offer non-profit options, such as Financial Edge and NonProfitPlus, which help you keep track of your finances in real-time. Most also connect to payroll systems and produce reports for bank and board meetings.

3. Raising Your Profile

Let’s face it, self promotion isn’t a strong trait for everyone. But as the leader of a nonprofit, you are the face of your mission and your business. There will be times that you need to represent your cause to the media, the general public, and partners. If you’re uncomfortable with this, it’s time to put work into developing your self-confidence. Getting outside of your comfort zone is a great start to addressing any sources of anxiety that hold you back. Adjust your body language and develop your self image in a way that makes you look and feel like the strong leader that your business needs you to be.

Social media, too, can be a great tool for improving your visibility. But it’s not a magic wand. You must explore how it fits into a wider digital marketing strategy in order to make meaningful connections with your followers that convert to engagement with your mission. Combine your posts with content that your demographic will find valuable and informative. Create blog posts that give a deeper insight into your work and the issues that surround it. Partner with influencers to create videos that reach a wider audience. Wherever possible, make your content interactive, and encourage a dialogue on your social media — this can help your audience to connect to what you’re doing, and talk to others about it too.


Starting a nonprofit is not for the faint-hearted entrepreneur. There are going to be challenges ahead, not least due to the fact that your goals are not to make money for investors. However, by identifying key sources of startup funding, adopting tech tools that improve efficiency, and focusing on raising your profile, you can help give your business and your mission a positive footing.