Starting a non-profit and helping it
grow so that it can be successful and

make a huge impact in the world can be a
lot of hard work! So if you’re thinking

about starting a nonprofit there are a
couple things that you should probably

do before you get started that will help
make sure that you will be successful

and make a big impact. If you’ve seen
some of my other videos, welcome back! If

this is our first time meeting, my name
is Amber Melanie Smith and I am a

non-profit a founder, executive director,
and speaker on all things social impact

service and leadership. There’s really a
lot that goes into successfully starting

and growing a nonprofit, but in this
video I want to talk about three key

things that you really need to do before
you do any kind of paperwork or even

think of a name for your nonprofit to
make sure that you can be the most

successful at getting it off the ground
possible. As someone who started a

non-profit when I was in college and now
currently run the organization full time,

I definitely know about the steps that
it can take to get something off the

ground successfully. And I also know
about a lot of mistakes that I made

early on that if I hadn’t made we would
have been able to progress a lot faster –

and not only becoming financially
sustainable, but make a way bigger

impact. If you’re interested in hearing
about all those mistakes that I made

starting a non-profit, you can check out my other video on that

topic – 7 Mistakes I Made Starting a
Non-profit – hope you enjoy! But getting

back on topic for this video, I’m just
going to dive right into those three key

things that you need to be doing before
starting a non-profit.

The first thing you need to do before
you start a nonprofit is to really

deeply understand the need that you’re
trying to address. A lot of people start

thinking about beginning a non-profit
with some cool idea for a project or

program or event that they have, but this
is the wrong approach. You don’t want to

start with your idea, you want to start
with the need, and here’s why:

If you aren’t really familiar with the
root causes of the problem that you’re

trying to solve as an organization then
you won’t know if the idea that you’ve

had is going to adequately address that
need, and then you’re going to spin your

wheels doing something that’s not
actually going to make the impact that

you hope it will. So in these beginning
stages you really want to be doing all

of the reading, all of the meeting with
other people in the community who know

about this topic, all the research that
you can possibly be doing, to truly gain

an understanding of the problem that
you’re trying to solve in the community –

Whether it is homelessness or hunger or
improving education – whatever the problem

that you see in your community that is
compelling you to want to start a

non-profit in the first place – you need
to become very well-versed on the topic.

And you’re going to want to do this by
looking at a couple of key questions:

First, you want to know, who is affected
by the problem? Is it children of a

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specific age? Is it animals? A certain
type of animal? Is it the environment?

Is it a certain neighborhood in the city? So
thinking about the target demographic

that is being most affected by the
problem in your community or in the

world that you are trying to address.
Second, you want to be researching and

studying the underlying root causes
behind that problem that you’re looking

to solve. WHY is there hunger in the
community? What other factors are

influencing how much hunger there is in
the community? Is it a lack of access to

food? Is it the distance to drive to a
grocery store? Is it the cost of the food?

What are the things influencing that
being a problem in your community? And

third, when trying to understand the problem that

you’re looking to solve, you really want
to know what other issues are

interconnected to that problem. In the
example of hunger or education you know

that those things are connected a child
who is trying to study in school can’t

do it very well if they are also hungry
so we find in social change in social

impact movements that a lot of the
issues we’re trying to address are very

interconnected like a big spider web so
what are the factors that are most

impacting each other and what are the
gaps in the different areas that you

might want to solve how do you go about
understanding the need like I said

before you want to do a lot of research
the Internet is an amazing tool but I

highly recommend finding experts in your
community or around the world depending

on the geographical scope of the
nonprofit that you’re trying to start

and talk to them in person gain the
knowledge that they have gained

firsthand doing the work that you’re
trying to do and learn everything that

you can only when you understand the
problem that you’re trying to solve will

you truly be able to come up with a
mission statement the actions that your

organization is going to be taking to
address the problem in a way that will

be effective in solving that problem

the second thing that you want to do
before starting a nonprofit is to study

the landscape of other organizations in
the same geographical area that you are

hoping to serve the fact of the matter
is there are more and more nonprofits

being formed every day in the United
States and sometimes they overlap and

mission and compete for the same funding
dollars this means that if you’re hoping

to start a new organization you really
need to know who else is out there doing

the same work because they might be
competing for the same donor grant

funding or earned income revenue that
you are competing for and if you find

that you’re starting a non-profit that
replicates the services of another

organization in the same community you
might discover that it’s a really big

uphill battle to gain any traction to
raise money or to make the kind of deep

impact that you’re hoping to so you
really want to make sure that you’re

focusing on addressing needs that are
not already being addressed by an

organization that’s doing a good job in
the community now I’m not saying that

competition in every case is bad in some
cases an organization might be out there

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that’s not really being very effective
and in that case maybe it’s healthy to

have a little competition I’m all about
innovation and making sure that the most

important thing is getting done and that
is solving the social issues that we’re

here to solve ultimately we should be
thinking how can we put our non profit

out of business which means if you’re
gonna start an organization have a

vision of that end goal what would it
take to create a world in which your

nonprofit doesn’t need to exist whether
that’s ending homelessness or ending

human trafficking whatever it may be
your goal is to solve the problem and

then either disband or move on to solve
another problem the goal is not to

perpetuate your organization for all
time if that were the case then there’d

be no point starting at all so if you’ve
studied the landscape and you have found

other organizations out there doing what
you are essentially hoping to do and

solving the problems that you’re hoping
to solve you’ve got a couple decisions

to make the first is is there any way
that you can partner or collaborate with

this organization in
reinventing the wheel perhaps you could

be an asset to them the second thing is
taking a look at are there any major

gaps that that organization is not able
to fill and if you really want to start

your own nonprofit perhaps that gap is
what you could focus on to make sure

that you’re meeting a need without
competing for the same funding sources

as the other organizations

the third thing that you want to do
before starting a nonprofit is to think

through your business plan especially
including your plan to be a financially

sustainable organization a financially
sustainable organization would be one

that has regular revenue coming in that
you know you can count on and ideally

you’re in a situation where you can not
only count on that to survive at a base

level but you have a plan for how you’re
going to grow and make an even bigger

impact over time too as I mentioned
before ultimately try to solve the

problem that you have Excel to solve
when you’re thinking about the financial

component of your business plan there’s
no one-size-fits-all for every solution

a lot of nonprofits think that grants
are just kind of a silver bullet and

that getting some grants will solve all
of your problems but when in reality

only about one in ten grants can be
obtained even by professional grant

writers so grants are very competitive
they’re very difficult to get and

they’re definitely not a source of
funding that you should probably rely on

when you start a non-profit if you’re
interested in more information about the

different ways that a non-profit can
fundraise and explore developing that

financial sustainability I’ve got
another video for you fundraising

strategies when you’re trying to start
or grow a non-profit and you can check

that out the link to there are two main
components of the business plan that you

want to really focus on at this early
stage and that is once you’ve figured

out the what meaning what actions or
activities your organization is going to

undertake to inevitably address that big
problem that you are setting out to

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address you want to know how are you
going to measure your progress towards

that goal if it’s something like ending
homelessness an obvious way to measure

that would be that there are no people
experiencing homelessness in the city

for X number of years in a row measuring
these things is called measuring

outcomes so an outcome is basically the
difference between where you started

before you begin your organization and
the difference

world that has been achieved now that
you’ve been working at it for some time

essentially how you change the world so
you want to know how are you going to

measure your impacts towards your
progress towards the outcomes that

you’re hoping to achieve
is it a changes in attitude or

perception about something in that case
a survey might be a good way to track

the changes in attitudes over time when
you survey someone in the beginning you

survey someone at the end of the year
how has it changed if it’s something

like the example of homelessness that I
just brought up it could be how many

people have who were chronically
homeless are now no longer on the

streets and in affordable housing the
second major piece of the business plan

that you want to think through before
starting a non-profit is of course that

fundraising piece and how you are going
to plan to become financially

sustainable as an organization whether
that is through some kind of earned

income mechanism charging some very
small reasonable amount for items or

services that you offer or sponsorships
thinking through what is going to be the

best fit for your specific organization
and again recognizing that there’s no

one-size-fits-all solution for all
nonprofits every organization is

different and is going to need a
different approach to be successful

there is of course a ton more that
should go into a business plan for a

non-profit from your operations to
recruiting volunteers to your marketing

strategy but if I depict the top two
things it would definitely be how are

you going to measure your outcomes and
impacts and how you’re going to be

financially sustainable as an
organization and I know that when I was

first starting a non-profit those are
the two things that I wish I had put a

little bit more thought into in the very
beginning so are you thinking of

starting a non-profit and what stage in
the process are you at I’d love to know

please share that in the comments below
and don’t forget to subscribe because

I’m making weekly videos on nonprofits
social impact service leadership and

more I really hope that you found this
helpful

please if you are on Facebook check out
my Facebook group change the world or

bust we
having conversations there about how to

make a difference in the world
effectively and it’s just really good

conversation so come join us over there
I hope this helped you out don’t forget

to check out my other videos if you are
starting a non-profit I’ve got some

great resources on my channel check
those out and thank you again so much

for watching