Organizing a Non-Profit? Here’s Where to Start

There’s a lot that goes into the process of securing 501(c)(3) tax status – filing articles of incorporation, applying for IRS tax exemption, drafting bylaws and appointing a board of directors are just a few of the daunting steps – but having the number entitles an organization to seek out grant monies and corporate donations of supplies, allowing the cause to succeed.

So if you’re seeking nonprofit status – where do you start?

“In addition to the paperwork part, those looking to open an NFP need to know and understand their target audience and be willing to devote a great deal of time and energy,” explained Evelyn Kormanik, founder of the Staten Island Giving Circle, a local nonprofit which provides services for underserved children, seniors, homeless and veterans.

“You must have the genuine heart for it,” Kormanik continued. “It’s a great deal of work, but very rewarding and gratifying.”

Gary Bernstein, interim director of the Staten Island NFP Association, suggests seeking the help of an attorney as the first step.

“Securing a 501(c)(3) is a very long detailed process so seeking an attorney’s help is key,” Bernstein said. “SCORE, one of our associates, provides some really great tools and educational sessions on nonprofit navigation as well.”

After all of the paperwork is in place and a board of directors is chosen, Bernstein says the next step is securing funding.

“There are close to 300 nonprofit agencies on Staten Island and they’re all competing for the same dollars,” Bernstein said. “So this is the most challenging issue facing every NFP. There are a variety of foundations and the borough’s councilmen and women have a certain amount of discretionary funds but it is a relatively small pool of money compared to all of the groups that are looking to share it.”

That’s why Bernstein suggests that anyone forming a nonprofit should do their homework first.

“You have to learn and understand the process,” he said. “It’s more than just filling out a form and sending it to your local politician for consideration. Develop relationships, research the organizations you’re courting and find out the types of programs they fund and why. Make sure your programs match up before you ask for support.”

According to Bernstein, it’s an important part of earning proper recognition for your cause.

“There’s a lot of work involved with securing that 501(c)(3) status,” he concluded. “But the relationships you develop and contacts you meet along the way will only be beneficial to you as your nonprofit grows.”