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How to Start a Charity: Know the Basics

When you have a cause you care about and have gone as far as you can on your own to champion it, it might be time to start your own charity to spread your work to a wider audience. Starting a charity can be a big undertaking, but there are basic steps to follow to make sure yours gets started on the right foot.

1. Define Your Mission

Before anything else, you need to figure out your reason for existing. State your cause as specifically as you can, and see if you can come up with a unique angle that makes your mission a little different than everyone else’s. For example, if you want to fight cancer, be clear about the type of cancer, age group of patients or focus of your efforts. Will you raise money for research or to help families afford treatments? Narrow your scope and define your unique value proposition.

2. Pick a Name

Choosing a name is crucial. You want to select something that’s easy to remember so your donors have no trouble finding you. You also need to make sure your name is completely unique. Check your state’s list of existing nonprofits to make sure your name isn’t taken. You can also double-check with the Department of Commerce to ensure a business hasn’t already trademarked the name you’re thinking of.

3. Register With the IRS

In order to receive a nonprofit tax-exempt status, you’ll need to file paperwork with the IRS. This can be found at the IRS website under section 503(c)(3). In most cases, you’ll also need to register as a nonprofit with the Secretary of State in your state. Each state has different rules about what’s required, and it can help to hire a lawyer who works with nonprofits to make sure you have everything you need for a smooth application process.

4. Make a Website

Your website is your most important window to the world to explain your mission and get people excited about your work. In addition to a detailed “About Us” page, be sure to include a place where visitors can donate directly and a page with information about volunteering opportunities. If you can’t afford a professional to help you, try a DIY web builder instead. If you can invest in a custom website built exclusively for you, consider it! Your site will serve as an online advocate for your mission.

5. Start Raising Money

Your first fundraiser will help you get your name out into the community and give you some much-needed cash to start your operations. Whether you try a single fundraising event with lots of visibility or start small by bundling your social media presence and leveraging affiliate links, you’ll want to focus on raising money as soon as you can. Depending on your goals, you may need to raise several months’ worth of operating costs before you can dig into your charitable work.

6. Stay Lean

Overnight success is pretty rare in the world of nonprofits, so you’ll need to keep your operations as streamlined as you can while you build your initial fundraising and support. If you get creative about accepting donations online and make the most of your office supplies, staffing resources, and space, you can make sure that most of your donations go towards helping the cause you care about.

If you’ve never worked for a nonprofit before, consider seeking help from experts. As you define on your mission and build your core group of workers, ask someone with experience serving on the board of a nonprofit for help with your charity. Of course, if your goal is simply to raise some money to donate to a school or hospital, your work will be much easier. Whatever your purpose, if you can dream up a unique charity, you can also make sure it gets off the ground and serves your community.

Read more: Starting a Nonprofit Organization

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