Last week I was invited to be on a panel about starting your own non-profit for The SisStar Loop women’s empowerment organization. As a neophyte in this arena it was a pleasure and confirmation to be seated with such panelists like Regine Roumaine the Executive Director of Haiti Cultural Exchange and Galit Adani of Dance to Unite. Both women started from scratch building their organizations from the ground up, finding the right team members through trial and error and living to tell the tale of how they keep going each day.
As Co-owner of Bondfire Radio I fall in the ‘social entrepreneur’ category of business person. BFR is not a non-profit (yet. maybe soon?). Not because we can’t be, but because to me and my business partner- it was important to decide this work was something we could sustain and know there a place for us in this world. Social entrepreneurs are do-ers that seek change in their industry for the betterment of society and can either be profit or non-profit entities.
Being on the panel I got to express that the only way to start anything for profit, non-profit, hobby, or career is to JUST START. It’s so much easier to seek mentorship when you have something to show for it. It’s easier to narrow down your needs if you started the process of finding out what you need. And when you have a clear picture of your mission and can recite your mission statement like your home address you can walk seek information with confidence. So, go from idea to reality buy just starting.
Some other tidbits I took from the panel and fellow panelist were to:
- look into your state’s Attorney General website for free workshops and help on starting your non-profit.
- If you are an artist or arts org, find out if your city or borough has an arts council that helps fund local artists. The 2015 Bondfire Radio Audio Festival was made possible with funding from the Brooklyn Arts Council.
- Think very hard about who will be on your board and know that the primary function of a non-profit board is to raise funds.
- Consider partnerships as ways to cross-promote and cut costs. Share the work, double the exposure for both businesses.
As a person that is still thinking about what path to take next for our organization, many of this applies to us and there is always room to grow. Our baby steps include looking into alternatives to becoming a non-profit such as:
- Join an already established nonprofit as a volunteer, board member, or staff.
- Work with an already active nonprofit compatible with your ideas and values; collaborate with them to develop a special project to meet a specific public need.
- Start a local chapter of a national organization if there isn’t already one.
- Form an informal nonprofit: an informal gathering of people to meet a short-term and local need.
- Become a social entrepreneur: running a for-profit business with social goals and charitable causes in mind.
- Fiscal sponsorship: a fiscal sponsor shares its tax-exempt and tax-deductible status with the sponsored program, the new program operates as a program of fiscal sponsor.
Take your time choosing the right path for your organization. The only wrong way to start is if you don’t.