Dear 80’s Baby, I Am A Photographer, How Do I Start a Non For Profit For Kids?
Dear 80’s Baby,
I have been a photographer for the last 15 years and I am in love with my career. I built my business from the ground up with my own money and recently I had a change of heart for the purpose of my business. The change came after my recent hiring of my assistant. He is a 17 year old senior who until I hired him had no direction in life. He skipped school, hung with the wrong crowd and sold and used drugs. But now he goes to school every day, changed his friends, volunteers after school when he is not working for me to tutor some of his classmates. He has quit using and selling drugs and even aspires to be a photographer like me. All of this has taken place in the last four months he has been working for me. So now I feel inspired to help other youths in my community who may feel hopeless with no direction in life just like my assistant once did. My question to you is, how do I go about starting a non for profit after school program to teach kids photography?
The fact that you took in this young man as your assistant gets a pat on the back from me. As far as I am concerned you saved this young man’s life and because of you the world will have another talented photographer contributing positively to this world instead of becoming another prison inmate supported by our taxes. I personally would rather financially support a budding photographer rather than an inmate. I am sure most folks would agree on that. Not to mention all the violence among our youth these days you also saved his family the grief of having to bury this young man. Kudos to you my friend.
Now about the business of wanting to start a non for profit, or NFP, I can appreciate why you want to do it but I have to warn you that you have your work cut out for you. I am not saying that to discourage you, I just want you to understand that starting a NFP is not as easy as filling out paperwork and bam you’re cruising on easy street. You are already a business owner so you do have some basic knowledge but there is several extra steps required by law in order to become a legal NFP.
First thing, and you may have one already, but you need a business plan. You cannot use the same business plan from your current business for your new NFP. You can however speak on your current business as a way of vouching for your skills and resources. This will come in handy when you are looking to get some funding. Your business plan should be like a road map for the NFP so potential funders and supporters know what direction you are taking it. Supporters are more likely to take you serious if your business plan is solid. If I were you I would really play up the story of your assistant and the need for your program in your community.
Your next move should be research. Research the guidelines necessary for your business to be eligible as a NFP, 501c3 and tax exempt statuses. There is a website called the National Council of NonProfits. This website can be a good resource for you to educate yourself on how to obtain your various statuses. Another website I would suggest for you to visit is the Donors Forum. Both of these website are heaven sent for any successful NFP.
What do these statuses mean? Well they can be the differences in how you file and pay your taxes; how you hire and fire your staff and what kind of programming and services you are required by law to provide.
After you finish your research, begin the registration process with the state as soon as possible. The sooner you start the better. Don’t rush through the process, pay attention to all the little details. Always remember the devil is in the details. One false move and your program can be rejected and you end up creating more time consuming hurdles for your NFP. This is also a good time to take care of any legal obligations as well.
The next thing you want to do is start to build your organization’s board of directors. The reason you need a board of directors is number one it is required by law and two, they will make all the difference in the world for you NFP. It will give your NFP some diversity which is a plus for any type of organization. Being a business man such as yourself, you have probably rubbed elbows with some good candidates for your board. Just think really hard and reflect on all the people you have met in the last 15 years or better. You want a good mix of individuals with integrity, wisdom, business insight and the spirit of a public servant. The main thing is that they have the same passion that you have for serving your community’s needs.
If you cannot find any suitable candidates within you circle, make a public appeal. Put out an ad publicizing a need for volunteers for your organization. Your best bet may be to get involved with some nonprofit work outside of your own so you can build some relationships within the NFP sector. Attend events, register with organizations that specifically cater to NFP. Basically network your butt off. Shake hands and kiss babies like your life depends on it. Throughout this process, create a system for filtering out people who can and cannot help you and your organization.
As soon as you select your board of directors, put them right to work. The reason for that is because your next step is to begin developing and executing a fundraising plan. This is just as important if not more than building your board of directors because like any other business it will have expenses and the money has to come from somewhere. Without a fundraising plan your NFP will only go so far and never reach its full potential.
I have a few tips for you Michael. The first is since you want to start an after school program, reach out to the schools in your surrounding area. The schools might be receptive to creating a partnership with you so their students can participate in your programs. You may even luck up and gain some volunteers and maybe even a board member or too from the school staff or parents of their students. Ideally you want a partnership with the schools in your area but do not be afraid to seek schools from anywhere in your city or even state.
My next tip for you is to keep good records. Despite your good intensions they will all be in vain if you can’t prove how you made your accomplishments. Once again I must warn you to pay attention to the devil in the details. Even if something may not seem relevant take note of it anyway. Better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it. Create a record keeping system so you can stay organized and know where your records are. I mean what good is the information if you can’t put your hands on it.
So Michael, I can’t say enough how noble I think your cause is. You giving back to your community is very smart and it shows that you care about your community’s future. I hope I was some help to you and I wish you and your organization nothing but success.
The 80s’ Baby.
Gotta question? Email The 80s’ Baby at firstname.lastname@example.org