Becoming involved in charitable giving can be a transformative experience. It is not uncommon for individuals new to giving to consider starting their own nonprofit organization in order to focus more attention and resources on a cause they care about deeply. Ironically, adding to the number of nonprofits can deprive existing organizations of the awareness and donations needed to fulfill their missions. If you want to found a new charitable organization, there are a few things to consider to determine if a new nonprofit will benefit your cause the most.

What will my new organization bring to the community that is currently lacking?

Identify why a new organization is necessary. There are currently more than 1.5 million charities in the U.S.; chances are someone is already trying to meet the need you want to serve. Research the organizations either in your area or that exist at the national level to see if you can support their efforts. You may discover that a larger organization could use your help coordinating efforts to address a need in your community. They also may be able to support you with resources that allow you to make a bigger impact than if you were creating a new organization on your own.

If your idea for improving the world requires funding, many grant opportunities and foundations prefer to fund projects under existing organizations. Teaming up with an already established charity may allow you to access funds quicker and raise the profile of your mission.

What is my primary motivation for starting a new organization?

It is a common theme in charitable giving that while it is the heart that motivates the giver, it is the mind that helps him or her to do it most effectively. Ask yourself, “Do I want to start a new organization to further my cause or do I want to make myself feel better?” Feeling good about helping others is a key component to sustainable giving because it improves the lives of everyone involved. However, it is important to allow these feelings to be a consequence of our involvement rather than the main stimulus. Take comfort in the fact that research verifies that the most generous people are also the happiest, but also recognize that it is well thought out giving that does the most good for others.

Do I know others who are similarly motivated to help found a charity?

It is necessary to think through the level of staff and volunteers that will be needed to start a new nonprofit. Establishing a new organization with a shared vision for change takes not only a lot of people, but a strong commitment from everyone involved. Volunteering with an already existing organization will help you find others that share your passion as well as provide an opportunity to learn how nonprofits work.

Volunteering can provide both the experience and the network necessary to found a new nonprofit. You will need to enlist the support of others in the community in order to create a board of directors that is willing to provide leadership to the organization and within your community. It will also be necessary to tap into volunteer networks to support your organization with their time and fulfill other responsibilities.

Is my idea better suited for a for-profit enterprise?

If you imagine a product or service that others will purchase in order to help those in need then your idea probably falls into the for-profit category. Clarify your mission in order to see if you want to run a business or a charity. Remember that if you are fortunate enough to get your organization off the ground with the support of a board of directors that you will be working for them, not the other way around. A nonprofit is run by a board and serves its mission; decide if you want to make all the decisions yourself and have full control over the services you offer or commit yourself to serving a mission with others.

How urgent is the need?

There are some causes that require immediate attention. Responding to a natural disaster or similarly catastrophic event requires systems and practices that are already well established in order to be effective. When there is an immediate need in your area, working under the umbrella of an established nonprofit can save time and money. Working as a committee chair under the guidance of a larger organization will often allow you to bring immediate assistance to those in dire need after a tragedy.

Are you more interested in planning a one-time event?

Planning an event that benefits a particular cause can bring needed donations and attention to an organization already dedicated to that cause. You are likely to find that teaming up with an established nonprofit allows you to devote your energies to planning the event and raising money. Be sure to contact the charity first to get approval for your fundraising efforts.

Does your cause make it difficult to secure the long term funding required to sustain a nonprofit?

It is important to take a look at the fundraising landscape for your type of cause and decide what strategies will or will not work. Is your cause too narrow to be supported long term? What funding is necessary to get your organization up and running? How much of your resources will be needed to keep your nonprofit going and what is needed to make an impact on your cause? Are foundations and corporations likely to support your cause? Again, are there other organizations already supporting this type of work that will compete for funding and attention?


Once you have weighed all your options and are certain that starting a new charity is the right step, and have a strong team of people who are willing to work for a shared mission, then you are ready with a long term plan of action and funding. Congratulations!

Here are several resources that will get you started:

Starting a Nonprofit: What You Need to Know – Manual from the University of Richmond (free download)

United States Internal Revenue – Forms for filing for 501(3)(c) tax exempt status in the USA

Board Source – Resources for building effective non profit boards