6 Things NOT to do Before Launching Your Nonprofit

I started this blog, in part, because the resources I found for starting a nonprofit were out of touch with both the times and for Millennials.

Earlier this week I published a post 8 Things to do Before Launching Your Nonprofit. Today’s post is the opposite: 6 Things NOT to do. These are based on my experiences as well as countering some of the resources out there that miss the mark:

1)  Write a formal business plan. Before I go any further, let me say this: you still need goals, metrics, etc, etc. But you don’t need a 30 page business plan or a 50 slide Power Point. It takes too much time, no one is going to read it, and it’s going to change too much in the early months. In five years of leading ServeNext, I’ve been asked for a formal business plan ONE time. Go with a 3-5 page plan with a shorter time horizon.

2) Related to #1, you don’t need to have every detail about your organization finalized. There’s a fine balance between knowing enough to move forward vs. getting so caught up in knowing everything you move no where. Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers. If you feel ready to go, then go. You’ll figure out what you need to. 

Technology provides a good example. Facebook didn’t launch with events, photos, a newsfeed, apps, and more. It launched with a single picture and a basic bio. People liked it, venture capitalists invested, and Facebook added more features. Repeat. They didn’t know every feature before it launched. They tested, iterated, scrapped ideas that didn’t work, and improved ones that did. Same thing for nonprofits.

3)  Apply for a bulk mailer license.  I couldn’t believe that various nonprofit resource groups recommended this. Who are you bulk mailing as a startup anyway? 

4) Your own 501(c)3 status. Start with a fiscal sponsor. This is the better route anyway because it saves you time of applying for your own c3 until you’re confident your idea is working and you have the resources to keep going.

5) Well-connected board. The first board at my organization consisted of a friend and family member. That got us going and then we added others later.

6) Experience.

Another way to look at this list? Over thinking, over planning, and worrying about every detail. Launching a nonprofit is a balance of head and heart. Too much of either and things won’t go too far. But if you start moving, your idea will work — or it won’t. But either way that’s progress because you went for it.


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