Friday, March 21, 2008

How to Start a New Nonprofit - DON'T

I spoke to a very nice young woman today who has started this new nonprofit. (Thanks Melissa for letting me use you as a "straw man.")

She asked my advice re: best practices (I know, I'm getting sick of that word too!) in starting a new nonprofit. For those of you in a similar boat, here's what I said:

1) Don't start a new nonprofit. (I hate to be harsh, but it's really good advice.) Did you know that there are over 1,000,000 nonprofits in the U.S. today? Unless you have friends in high places or have LOTS of money, you will not be able to compete with all these groups for grants, volunteers, and attention. It's just too hard! Instead, use your PASSION to connect with other organizations that do similar work. In this way, you will:

- gain experience in your chosen cause
- build your network
- build more credibility with funders
- still be able to pay the rent!

2) Find the orgs in your area or if you do business in cyberspace (online) who do similar work and contact them. Ask to have a brief conversation (I recommend 20 minutes max) to pick their brains and learn more about their organizations. People LOVE to give advice. If you make it about them, they will generally make time for you.

3) Join a social network which targets the audience you want to serve or the folks who serve your audience. Again, your goal is to begin to understand the "market" you want to play in and to build relationships with the folks already in your space.

4) Read The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout. Launching a new org (for- or nonprofit) is ALL about marketing. And this is the best/easy read to get you started.

5) Once you have done ALL of the above - write a 1-pager about your product or service which answers the following questions.

What do you do? (This is your mission.)

How do you do it? (This is your programs.)

Why is your work/product/service important? (FYI, it's not important because you say it is. you'll have to find data/stories/illustrations/case studies to make your case.)

Now, data aside, and this will be the most difficult question to answer...

Why should anyone else care? (How will you convince donors to give to your cause over giving to the myriad other causes out there? How will you convince your target audiences to pay to work with you?)

Got other ideas for starts up/entrepreneurs?


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