Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of State Farm’s sponsored ‘Oughta Save August’ series. If you have any tips on financial literacy for LGBTQ+ youth, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to submit for this series!
If you’ve made the decision to start a non-profit, your first step is to pat yourself on the back! It is very admirable to give back to your community and raise money for your cause, whatever that may be. Just like a for-profit business, starting and managing a non-profit has its many challenges and can seem like a daunting task. It becomes even more of a challenge to start a non-profit while we are in the midst of a pandemic, but please don’t let this deter you. There are ways to navigate through this time and still find creative ways to raise money for your cause.
In 2016, my two teammates, Sara Grossman and Brandon Wolf, and I started The Dru Project, a non-profit based in Orlando which was started to commemorate our friend, Drew Leinonen, who we lost in the Pulse Nightclub shooting that year. The Dru Project was established to assist Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) in high schools, and also give scholarships to leaders in the LGBTQ+ community for college or trade school. We have given over $70,000 in scholarships to date, developed the most comprehensive curriculum for GSAs, and have flown around the country to tell Drew’s story and raise money and awareness for our cause. Through hard work and dedication to this cause, we have been able to maintain a successful non-profit that will be around for years to come.
The very first step to starting a non-profit is to find the right team. You may come across a lot of wonderful people who believe in your cause and have great intentions, but unfortunately, this is no substitute for work-ethic, expertise, and the ability to work with the team. Since many non-profits start off with a group of volunteers, finding the right group can be more challenging than it seems. It is important to decide if someone is a good fit not just based on their dedication level to the goals you are trying to achieve, but also their credentials in terms of the role they will be playing in your organization.
Once you have a team in place, decide what your specific goals are and what the mission of the organization is. Develop ways to achieve those goals and make sure they are S.M.A.R.T. I am sure many of you are familiar with this concept, but in case you’re not, goals must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. I could write another article on this alone, but is best to research this online and think along this line to develop your organization’s bigger and smaller goals. Our team for The Dru Project meets at the beginning of each year to plan the year out. This includes what we want to achieve, and what our budget is.
Now that you have an idea of what you’re doing, and who is helping you, it’s time for the paperwork. Your first task is to obtain a Tax-ID number, which is also called a Federal ID number. This can be obtained in twenty minutes or less by logging onto IRS.gov and filling out the short application for non-profits. There is no fee for this, and you will have your Tax-ID number within a day or two. Once that is done, file with your state’s division or department of corporations. Each state has their own site and their own fees associated with filing for your non-profit. You will need your tax-ID number, officer information, registered agent information, a principal address, and mailing address. I suggest using a PO BOX if you can so that each officer will be able to access the mail at any time. Once you file this application and pay the fee (most states are under $200), then it’s time to open your bank account.
Most banks will check the information on their state’s division of corporations’ website, so make sure that is visible and correct. Each officer listed will be able to obtain access to the account if they are listed on this site. Last, and most importantly, venture back to the IRS website and file for 501(c)(3) status (for most non-profits). There are two ways to file this, online and on paper through the mail. The paper version is going to take a lot more time and effort, and the online version will be faster, and easier. Unfortunately, filing initially as a non-profit when you first obtain your tax-ID number does not automatically make the donations you receive tax-deductible for your donor. This step is very important since most donors are looking to help your cause, but also write it off of their taxes.
Once you are official, the marketing comes into play. Make sure you have a great logo, mission statement, website, and social media pages as well. Our marketing guru, Sara Grossman, has done a terrific job of setting us up online. We are visible and have a great deal of followers on social media, which is now our number one source of revenue.
Online marketing is especially important during this pandemic. Since we are not able to host large fundraising events, we have turned to online fundraisers as our primary source of income. This year, we had several online marketing campaigns that lasted up to two weeks with different events and a lot involvement from our community. With our Drag Queen Fundraiser and our Pulse Memorial Fundraiser, we were able to raise over $40,000 this year and also give assistance to our wonderful drag family who helped us with our cause.
If you have made it this far, you definitely deserve another big pat on the back. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to start a non-profit and to manage it, especially during hard times such as these. There are going to be times where you’re going to second guess everything, and wonder if you want to keep pushing on. My final advice to you is do not take your eye off of your cause. Remember why you did this in the first place, and the people you are helping by continuing to march forward!
About the Author:
Shawn Chaudhry attended UCF in Orlando, FL from 2004–2008 and earned his bachelor’s degree in Management-Entrepreneurship. He later obtained a Masters in Medical Informatics and an MBA in Healthcare Administration. He is the President of @thedruproject, currently lives in Tampa and works as a consultant.