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Millie's Guide to How to Start a Non-Profit Organization

Millie's Guide to How to Start a Non-Profit Organization

Article written and edited by Chloe Jazzy Lau and Nadya Soetomo.

Eager to make a difference through a nonprofit organization? Say no more, you’ve come to the right place!

Should you start a nonprofit organization (NPO)?

Here are a few things to reflect on before taking the leap to starting an NPO:

You should start one if you...

  • Are driven by a strong, genuine passion

Fundamental to starting an NPO is the desire to change the world for the better. Are you passionate about social phenomena? The rights of underprivileged groups? Environmental protection? Having a passion for a greater cause will help carry you through tough times.

  • Have a clear niche cause

It’s crucial for an NPO to address a specific target audience or offer a unique solution to an identified problem. Doing so will make your NPO stand out and attract people to your cause. Starting something out of a need provides a purpose, allowing you to be a pioneer and active advocate in your niche market or field.

  • Are persistent

If you want to start an NPO, be prepared to adapt and stay engaged for the long haul. Persistence is key. Reflect on a time when something didn't go as planned: How did you handle the setback? What kept you moving forward?

You probably shouldn’t if you...

  • Work best with a clearly-defined structure

When starting an organization, you're building from the ground up, with no predetermined plan of action. If you thrive in a structured setting, such as teacher-led classrooms or clubs, launching an NPO might not suit you, as you'll rely heavily on self-motivation and planning.

  • Are only doing it for your CV

Starting an NPO demands genuine commitment to weather the highs and lows of the journey. If your primary goal is merely to boost your college application, you may falter when challenges arise.

  • Already have a lot on your plate

Establishing an NPO requires significant time and effort. If you're already managing academics, sports, or other extracurriculars, consider whether you truly have the bandwidth to devote to an NPO.

“What’s fundamental is your passion and desire to make a change.”

The mapping strategy

So, you've decided to start your very own NPO, but you don't know where to begin? No worries! Here's a mapping strategy by Chloe Jazzy Lau, the founder of YouMatter, to help you get your idea off the ground:

  1. One-pager

A one-pager is a concise document to send to people you're pitching to, such as donors and stakeholders. It doesn't necessarily have to be one page (it could be two or three!), but it outlines the planning process of your NPO. It's a document you will constantly refer to throughout your NPO journey. It should include your overall vision and goals, your NPO structure (whether a niche market or niche solution), and its organizational backbone.

  1. Building a team

A good team should have excited members invested in your mission and vision. The first step to building a strong team is recruiting people within your circle who have relevant experience and/or a strong interest in your project. You can also reach out to people from changemaker communities such as RoundPier or Global Changemakers.

  1. Piloting

The purpose of piloting is to build and test a bite-sized version of your project before the official launch. To do this, you should identify the ultimate goal of your NPO. Instead of pursuing it directly, test a scaled-down version within a limited timeline. Quick piloting may lead to rapid failures, but it will efficiently help you identify and address what went wrong.

  1. Evaluation

The next step after piloting is processing and reviewing your results. Use frameworks, such as a SWOT analysis, to help your team understand the strengths and weaknesses identified during your pilot run. For an external evaluation, consider comparing your piloting statistics with the goals outlined in your one-pager. Are they still realistic? Don't forget to also gather testimonials and feedback from your audience!

  1. Formal launch

If you’ve done the previous steps well, the launch will naturally come to you. The best way to approach your official launch is to see it as the starting point of your journey!

“Launching your organization is just the start of an opportunity to learn and fail.”

For more details and personal advice from Chloe, check out Millie's Guide workshop on Starting a Non-Profit Organization for High School Students!