I am periodically approached by individuals who wish to start up a Jewish nonprofit organization. In the current COVID-19 climate my skepticism abounds whether this is the right time or the right environment. Across the country, stories teem about how synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, Jewish social service agencies and many Jewish nonprofit institutions are struggling to make ends meet. They are either closing their doors or furloughing staff because they cannot afford the overhead. It’s a sad state of affairs.
But, if the past is any prologue to the future, we will rebound and, once we do, life will resume, and normalcy will return. Yesh Tikvah– we can hope. While now is a questionable time to start up a nonprofit, planning can begin. Here are the essential and hard questions to ask that will dictate whether to initiate a new cause.
Some begin this quest because they think it’s a good idea. My first question is this: Did you define the need? Was there a problem in your community that is unresolved, and does your program fill the gap in lacking services? Do you have statistics or metrics to back up your idea showing a definite need?
Alternative or Similar Services
Have you investigated whether your idea is truly unique? Are there similar or overlapping services already in place? What other options are available in the community that target the population you want to serve and are they adequately meeting needs?
Thought must be given to serving a geographic area that makes sense and doesn’t stretch your resources to the limits. Do you know where your home base will be and is this a service that can be supported financially in a limited locale or is it worthy of serving a region, state or nationally?
Are there others who share your excitement and interest? Will they be willing to help this undertaking with their volunteer time, leadership and/or other resources? Have you explored whether there exists a constituency that is willing and able to support the cause personally and financially?
What is the purpose of your organization? Have you established a mission statement that describes your raison d’etre—your reason for being? Is there a proclamation or guiding statement that declares your commitment and how you plan to pursue it?
There are various registrations that are required to give your nonprofit formal status and essential to securing tax exempt status. Achieving 501(c)(3) standing is a must so that donors can claim tax deductions for their charitable gifts. In addition, there may be state registrations, as well as rankings by independent charity watchdogs such as Charity Navigator or GuideStar.
Part of being a responsible nonprofit is establishing a group of volunteers who will set policy, govern, advocate on your behalf and help philanthropically. The board of directors should set up a budget, conduct oversight, institute accountability, evaluate progress and, if justified, recruit a senior executive to run the organization.
Create a Data Base
Do you know your supporters? What are their demographics? Are they capable of consistently helping the organization? Will some offer to volunteer and others have the capacity to make small or large charitable gifts? Will they be willing to bring others into the fold? Can this important information be put into a workable data base?
Are you prepared to set up receptions, or informational get-togethers, with community members and lay leaders to tell your story? Reaching the masses is an important way to get your message across and is important to mobilizing grassroots support. Are you ready to galvanize public enthusiasm on your behalf?
Marketing and Fundraising
Have you given thought to establishing a marketing plan that delineates how you will publicize your services through press releases, advertising, promotions, speaking engagements, print and electronic media and the like? Your marketing plan should complement a strategic fundraising plan that will help you raise the necessary funds to support your nonprofit.
No one said this would be easy. Not every nonprofit has gone through these steps. But the successful ones likely have. Think about it and then ask yourself: “Is this the time to start up my nonprofit?”
Norman B. Gildin lived in Teaneck, New Jersey, for 34 years and fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades raising upwards of $93 million. He is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds. He can be reached at [email protected]