Should You Start a Nonprofit?

You see a problem. It could be for a specific group of people, for a community, or for the world. Or maybe a personal challenge leads you to want to help others in your situation. You have an idea for a unique and creative way to make the world a better place. And you think you might want to start a nonprofit. What’s next? 

A Forbes article states that 50% of nonprofit organizations will fail within their first year. A lot of energy and emotion goes into launching an organization. Before you make the decision to travel down this path there is a lot to consider. 

Who else is addressing this problem?

An unfortunate commonality with nonprofits is that there is a lot of duplication. Many agencies serving the same cause in a similar way creates confusion for clients/constituents, donors, partners and the community. It leads to unnecessary competition between organizations that could probably do more good by working together. 

As you are considering starting a nonprofit, you first need to get crystal clear on what problem you are working to solve. Then look around and see who else is working to fix that problem. Check out their methods for addressing the problem. Is your idea similar to some other agencies out there? If so, you may be better off trying to partner with those agencies and work together. However, if after researching you find that you have a unique and creative way to address the problem, you may want to move forward. 

What is your commitment level? 

Starting a new business is a LOT of work. When you start a nonprofit organization, you have the additional challenges of extra government paperwork, developing and leading a Board of Directors, and fundraising. Not only that, oftentimes the founder ends up contributing a significant amount of personal time and financial resources in order to get the agency up and operating. Before launching a nonprofit, critically evaluate how much time and money you are motivated to put into it. 

It’s definitely worth noting that not all nonprofits require significant personal investment. Those with narrow scope and size can be launched with less backing and involvement. Which brings us to the next question you will want to consider. 

What is your long game? 

Nonprofits are often started as a result of a loss or trauma. For example when a child is lost, family and friends come together to channel their grief and desire to “do something” to honor their loved one. This is a great reason to start a nonprofit organization. It provides an instrument for managing grief, directing energy and routing funds. It can raise awareness and give people an opportunity to feel a connection to the child. Often these projects have a shorter lifespan. They serve their purpose and at some point are put to rest. And that’s okay. 

In other cases, the loss leads to something much bigger. Susan G. Komen is a great example. Susan’s sister Nancy started the organization in memory of Susan, with the purpose of ending breast cancer. Nancy had a long-game vision in the promise she made to her sister. 40-years later the organization is still working to eliminate breast cancer through research, education, screening, and treatment.

So, what’s your long game? Is your idea something you want to expand, and have live on long after you are gone? Do you want to keep it small and local? Your long-game can change as your organization evolves. Formulating a clear vision for where you want to take the agency can help you think through the previous question of your commitment level. 

Who will want to support your cause? 

Lastly, think about who will want to come alongside you and help you advance the work of your agency. Any successful nonprofit requires community engagement. Volunteers are needed to govern the organization as the Board of Directors. Donors or funders are almost always needed to provide operational resources. And community volunteers are generally needed to deliver programming or services, and to help with fundraising. 

When starting a nonprofit, one of the first things I always recommend is that the founder(s) get out in the community and talk to people about the problem and their solution. From there they find out who is excited about the work. Those are your potential donors and volunteers. If no one is interested in the project, it might not be a very good idea to go the nonprofit route. 

This article might sound like I’m trying to talk you out of starting a nonprofit organization. That’s not entirely true. What I really want to do is make sure that you make a good decision for you, for the people you want to serve, and for the nonprofit sector. This is another good article to read as you’re considering if the nonprofit model is right for you and your cause. 

Thinking about making the world a better place with your great idea? I would love to visit and talk through your options. Email me at, let’s connect!

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.