Ready for Summer Update: The Nonprofit Startup Summit 2018

It’s been a while since I posted here, but things have been busy. (I know, excuses, excuses!) Here’s to hoping I can get a few more posts out over the summer. Way too often, when people set out to start a nonprofit organization, I find that they have a great idea that will certainly benefit […]

It’s Update Week!

This blog is about starting nonprofit organizations. I try to post useful information most every week that startup nonprofiteers will find useful, and there are dozens of people reading my blog, (literally dozens! maybe even scores!), and sometimes I get actual feedback from a few of you. Please keep it up. Because of this feedback, […]

The Nonprofiteer’s Code

When you’re starting a nonprofit organization, you gotta have a code. Medical doctors know they must “first, do no harm”, Superman stands for “truth, justice, and the American way”, Spider-man understands that “with great power comes great responsibility”, and even the criminal Omar from The Wire only robs from other criminals, and never from “civilians”. […]

The Short Shelf Life of the Scrappy Nonprofit

A lot of nonprofits describe themselves as “scrappy” and often take pride in this identity. I’ve worked in a few of these, and actually enjoy that environment, but there’s a cost at maintaining a scrappy culture in the long term. First, what do we mean by the term scrappy? A post in a facebook group […]

Introducing the Nonprofit Startup Flowchart

Starting a nonprofit organization properly has many steps, and there are several variations on how to do this right. This complexity scares many people away from trying, and more problematically, encourages many to simplify the process and skip steps. I find it helpful to look at the whole process from a 10,000 foot perspective in […]

Nonprofit Lessons in the Wizard of Oz

You know the story. Dorothy is whisked away from her grey and dusty home in Kansas to a colorful land where she goes on a quest accompanied by three magical companions. Along the way she has many challenges and adventures, but successfully completes the quest and returns to her home. Oddly, this tale provides some […]

How to Hire Your First Staff Person

When you start a nonprofit organization it might be that you need no staff because it runs solely on volunteer labor. In these types of organizations, the board of directors usually takes a very hands on approach, and the work is accomplished before or after your day jobs. These organizations can be very effective at […]

What the Heck is a Theory of Change?

Most organizations I have worked with never bothered to develop a formal theory of change for their work, but every group has had one — even if it’s unstated and informal. When you start a nonprofit organization, it’s worth your time to spell this out explicitly. Doing so is not that difficult, and it helps […]

Who to Pick as Your Co-Founders

Nobody starts a nonprofit solo. By definition an organization is a group of people, and the reason you want to work in a group is that you’re trying to do something that a single person can’t pull off on their own. So you need an initial team of people to start your nonprofit organization, but […]

Nonprofit Startups: Two Sides to Every Coin

When you start a nonprofit organization things can seem quite simple at times. You have an idea and gather a group of like-minded people to work on that idea. Everyone pitches in and helps in some way, whether it’s working on small day-to-day tasks or making strategic decisions about the direction of your organization. Usually […]

Need to Research a Nonprofit? Here’s How

If you hope to start a sustainable nonprofit organization there are many questions you’ll need to answer. For example: Would the IRS approve of our mission statement or should it be tweaked before I submit my paperwork? How much will it cost to run our programs? How many people will we need to hire? How […]

Common Sense Fundraising Fundamentals for Nonprofit Newbies

If you’re starting a nonprofit organization you probably have some ideas about how you’ll raise enough money to stay afloat. That’s good because you’ll need to work these into your business model and budget early on. As often as not, newbies to the nonprofit world make assumptions about how money is made that don’t quite […]

Nonprofit Bookkeeping: What to Look For

If you’re starting a nonprofit organization one person you’ll need in your group of co-founders is someone who can handle the financial aspects of your organization. Now, keeping track of expenses and income sources is almost not certainly what brought you together. You came together to feed the puppies, or shelter the hungry, or cure […]

How Your Membership Rules Can Complicate Your Nonprofit

When you start a nonprofit organization you will find yourself staring at paperwork filled with questions you may not understand. The first few times I did this, I confess I needed to guess at some answers, but it’s really worth understanding the concepts before proceeding or you will get into trouble. Some answers are harder […]

Three Alternatives to Starting a Nonprofit

Don’t start a nonprofit organization because it’s easier than starting a for-profit business. Don’t start a nonprofit organization because you want to avoid paying taxes. Don’t start a nonprofit organization because you think you can do this better than anyone else who’s ever tried. Start nonprofit organization when you see a gap in the community […]

Use This Tool for Your Nonprofit’s Decision-Making System

Drafting a clear decision-making policy can seem like a low priority when you are starting a nonprofit organization, but that’s exactly the best time to do it. A good decision-making policy can be the difference between an organization that survives and one that fails in a time of crisis, but waiting until that happens would […]

The Vision Thing: Do You Know Where Your Organization is Heading?

Why invest any energy in drafting a vision statement for the nonprofit organization you are starting? Most consultants and nonprofit leaders seem to want them, but for many it seems like another “touchy feely” document that just isn’t necessary. Isn’t your idea about the nonprofit strong enough to stand on its own? Well, if you […]

This Boring Accounting Rule Will Trip You Up

Many who want to start a nonprofit organization know very little about nonprofit accounting, and there are some real traps you can fall into if you don’t understand the basics. I’m going to explain one important concept, and I’ll try to make it interesting by including references to donuts and ale. To make it simpler, […]

It’s Way Too Easy to Start a Nonprofit Organization that will Fail

“There are too many nonprofits out there.” Statements like this should give people who want to start a nonprofit organization some pause. Indeed, the National Center for Charitable Statistics estimates there are 1.5 million of them in the United States, and here in my home state of Oregon there are over 18,000. That does seem […]

Why Do Things Go Wrong?

Last week, I mentioned five types of work people need to do when establishing a new nonprofit. This week, I wanted to mention a couple of things I see go wrong often enough that it helps me understand why these foundational pieces are so important. When I think about what are the biggest problems that […]

Five Fundamental Phases of Founding a Nonprofit

There are so many pieces to keep track of when establishing a nonprofit organization that it can overwhelm the would-be founder. Most folks who are inspired to change the world have a great idea and just want to get to work. But then they learn about the rules and regulations required when hiring staff, and […]

The Business Model, or Is Your Idea Viable?

If you’re like most nonprofit founders I’ve met, you’re excited about setting up your programs and getting to work, but this may mean you’re less attuned to things like “what are all the supporting activities I’ll need to plan for?” and “who are our customers going to be?” That all sounds too businessy to bother […]

Preventing Founder’s Syndrome

I was approached to help an organization by an acquaintance. “It’s a classic case of founder’s syndrome,” she said. I knew immediately what she meant. I imagined that the founder was a bright and charismatic person who needed to do everything or micromanage everyone who tried to help. She wouldn’t settle for imperfectly completed work, […]

Fiscal Sponsors: What to Look For

At a local gathering of the Nonprofit Startup School here in Portland I presented a session on how fiscal sponsorships can help new nonprofit organizations. One thing that surprised me (just a bit) was that several attendees assumed a fiscal sponsor was a for-profit organization that could help your nonprofit find money. Not so! Normally […]

What the F? Sorting Fiduciary from Finance, Fiscal, and Fundraising

I’ve seen it many times. When a nonprofit starts up its members earnestly and diligently begin to work on delivering their mission to the community, but soon enough they need to start paying the bills. In their hearts they secretly hope someone else will step in and begin to look for corporate and individual donors, […]

The Artificial Person

Back around Halloween, I released a short animated video about the reasons to incorporate a nonprofit organization. Since it was a spooky time of the year, the metaphor I used was Frankenstein, an artificial person. A friend of mine watched the clip and came to the conclusion that I was anti-incorporation. Not true! Basically, creating […]