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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

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

  • Have a clear niche cause

It’s important for an NPO to address a specific target audience or provide a unique solution to an identified problem. Doing so will make your NPO stand out against the crowd and attract people to your cause. Starting something out of a need gives you a purpose so you can be a pioneer and an active advocate in your niche market or field.

  • Are persistent

If you want to start an NPO, prepare to be adaptable and engaged for the long run. Persistence is key. Think back to when something didn’t go as planned during a project: How did you approach the setback? What motivated you to keep going?

You probably shouldn’t if you...

  • Work best with a clearly-defined structure

You build everything from scratch when starting an organization, there is no set plan of action. If you are more comfortable performing in a fixed environment like teacher-led classrooms or clubs, starting an NPO may not be your cup of tea since you’ll be relying on your own motivation and planning.

  • Are only doing it for your CV

Once again, starting an NPO requires sincerity and commitment to face the many ups-and-downs throughout your journey. If your main incentive is only to add it to your college application, you might not be able to tough it out when things get tricky.

  • Already have a lot on your plate

Starting an NPO is no easy task; it requires a lot of time and energy. If you’re already juggling academics, sports, or other extracurricular activities, reflect on whether you have the capacity to dedicate yourself 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 start? 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 the people you’re pitching to such as donors and stakeholders. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one page (could be two or three!), rather it contains the planning process of your NPO — it’s a document you will constantly refer to throughout your NPO journey. It should consist of your overall vision and goals, your NPO structure (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 prior to the official launch. To do so, you should identify an idealistic, final goal of your NPO. Instead of pursuing it directly, test a mini-version of it within a limited timeline. Quick piloting will result in fast failures, but it will efficiently help you improve what went wrong.

  1. Evaluation

The next step after piloting is processing and reviewing your results. Use frameworks like a SWOT analysis to help your team understand the strengths and weaknesses identified by your pilot-run. For an external evaluation, consider comparing your piloting statistics with the goals identified 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 webinar on Starting a Non-Profit Organization for High School Students!