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Starting up

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Question:

What are a few key resources for starting a nonprofit?

Answer:

The biggest concept that people need to take into account when starting a nonprofit is that they shouldn’t necessarily be starting one.

I don’t say this to discourage people, but to encourage them to take into account all available options for collaboration instead of just setting off on their own.

* Google it.

Before you even lift a finger towards those articles-of-incorporation forms, do your research.

The first question you should be asking yourself is: Who else is focused on the same issue in the same community? If you want to save the forest in Topeka, Kan., go to Google and run a search on “save the forest, Topeka, KS.”

But this is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg.

Take the time to find who else is out there in your space and proactively contact them to find out options for collaboration.

If you are going to start a nonprofit, you should be able to intelligently speak to how you’re different from existing organizations and how you can collaborate with them.

This might include looking for a fiscal sponsor, joining a board, volunteering or taking on a lead role in an established organization, or even starting a social enterprise instead of a standard nonprofit.

Once you have done the basic research, you are ready to start consulting more specific resources like the four listed below.

* Find a fiscal sponsor.

A lot of people think you need to have a 501(c)3, but you can get around that.

Any group that already has nonprofit status can agree to be your fiscal sponsor, handling donations to your project so that you can focus your energy on other things.

Capaciteria, an online directory of nonprofit capacity resources by category, has a useful fiscal sponsorship database.

* Get the funding low-down.

The Foundation Center is a really great resource. It’s essentially a library of all the different grantmaking organizations, both corporate and nonprofit, all their deadlines, and how to contact them.

You can also check statistics to see who’s getting funded by whom – and who’s not.

* Look for partners in crime.

The Nonprofit Support Yellow Pages is a localized directory of nonprofit management support organizations that provide nonprofits and social enterprises with information, services, products, and training, as well as opportunities to connect with peers and potential collaborators.

Though these resources are pretty specific to the San Francisco Bay area right now, Craigslist Foundation is in the process of building that out to a series of national directories.

Finally, it’s hard to talk about anything related to nonprofits resources without mentioning Idealist.org, an all-around outstanding meet-up and resource-sharing spot for social entrepreneurs worldwide.

A last bit of advice for newbies: Don’t focus on yourself. It’s not your cause, it’s the cause. Focus on the community. Collaboration in general maximizes and magnifies any effort.

Compiled by Elizabeth Floyd


Darian Rodríguez Heyman is executive director of Craigslist Foundation, which produces events and online resources to help emerging nonprofit leaders.  He also serves as commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

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