Starting a Nonprofit in 4 REALLY HARD Steps


I talk to people often who are interested in starting a new nonprofit. Here are four simple steps that I think are really hard but worth it, in my opinion, if you’re going to start well.

1. Identify your DISTINCT why.

Why is what you want to do important and how is it different from what others are doing?

  • Pray over it
  • Lock in on it
  • Commit to it

Are you sure nobody else is doing it? Maybe nobody in the same area? Maybe nobody for the same audience? If someone else is doing the same thing, serving the same audience, in the same area, are you sure you wouldn’t be better off jumping in with them and trying to help them do it versus starting over on your own?

2. You need a board.

Your board should be a group of people who believe in your why and will help you push forward to achieve it. Ideally, this would be five to seven people starting out. These should be people you trust to encourage and support your vision. These should also be people you trust to ask you hard questions and that you won’t be afraid to answer. Resist the temptation to get five people who will just agree to everything you say. Side note: if your “why” includes a target audience group, consider including a board member who is part of or represents that group. This will be an invaluable source of feedback. I have written more about the role of a board here.

3. You need a plan.

What will you do to accomplish your why? How will you do it? With input from your board, develop and document this plan. Habakkuk 2:2 says “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.” I tell my team that it’s easy for me to get moving on a plan that only exists in my head, but if I want to bring other people along and have them add value to my activities, it will help to write it down. Think about how detailed the makers of Legos are when they document instructions. Anyone can pickup a box of Legos and follow the step by step instructions to build the model they designed. You may not know all the steps but write down what you know and include thoughts on what you don’t. Who will make decisions when you come to a point that isn’t defined up front? How will the decisions be made? Your plan should spell these out.

4. Get moving.

The above three steps will probably be minor compared to the amount of time you spend once you get started. But having those three things completed will help you as you move forward.

NOTE: If you’re starting a nonprofit in the US and would like to position yourself as a 501(c)3 to receive tax deductible contributions, here’s a link to the IRS page where you can find more information about that process.