Nonprofit Kit For Dummies book cover

Nonprofit Kit For Dummies

By: Beverly A. Browning and Stan Hutton Published: 10-26-2021

Helping you successfully start a nonprofit organization the right way or strengthening the governing, financial, and capacity-building framework of your existing nonprofit organization!

Ready to do some good? Ready to give back to the community? You better be! Because in Nonprofit Kit For Dummies you’ll find the tools and strategies you need to organize and shift your nonprofit into high gear. Buckle up and hit the gas as you master the latest techniques in nonprofit startup, recruiting the right board members, identifying collaborative stakeholders, grant writing, online fundraising, and marketing. You’ll learn to improve your management practices, raise more money, give more effectively, and plan more creatively.

This book’s supplementary online resources include expertly written organization plans, financial procedure outlines and guides, and event planning tools you can implement immediately to help your nonprofit help more people. It also walks you through how to:

  • Find up-to-date info on the latest web-based campaign tools, like Kickstarter, Kiva, and others
  • Use templates, checklists, and plans to organize your nonprofit’s finances, employee relations, and legal structure
  • Survive and thrive during challenging times, like those caused by pandemics and natural disasters

Starting and running a nonprofit organization takes heart, courage, and know-how. You’ve got the first two taken care of. Let Nonprofit Kit For Dummies help you with the knowledge as you lift your nonprofit to new heights.

Articles From Nonprofit Kit For Dummies

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10 Tips for Raising Money from Your Website

Article / Updated 10-20-2021

Although online donations still represent a modest percentage (13 percent as of 2020) of total giving to nonprofit organizations, that percentage is growing, and your nonprofit's website is an important fundraising tool. People give online because it's fast and convenient. Websites are particularly strong at reaching donors who know your organization well, trust it, and like the convenience of giving online. They can also attract donors who contribute on impulse. Charities that respond to emergencies have succeeded at raising money online when a disaster strikes. How can you make your website do its fundraising job well? Here are ten tips: Evaluate your website's content If potential donors are meeting your organization for the first time through its website, you want them to quickly understand the essence of who you are and what you do. Ask yourself, what do they see when they arrive on your home page? Your purpose and mission should be clearly and succinctly stated. Don't use your full mission statement: instead, present your purpose in a phrase or short sentence. Pay attention to your website's look Don't present a cluttered layout or dense text. Remember that it's a visual medium. (You can search online to see examples of the previous year's best nonprofit websites for some great models.) Invite your website's users to get involved Include sections labeled, "What You Can Do," "Join Us," or "Make Change." In all online fundraising, using the word "you" is the most powerful way to get your readers' attention. When you have that attention, give that reader some choices. Making a donation should be a clear and prominent option, but it shouldn't be the only way for someone to help you. Show the outcomes Online donors want to know about results. They want to know your work is effective and that their contribution makes a concrete difference. You can show them the stack of school supplies their $50 gift could buy for refugee children or the well you could dig in a drought-parched part of the world for just $300. Keep it simple Make it, oh, so easy to find your "donate" option and follow the steps to make an online donation. Services such as Just Giving and Network for Good can help you collect and acknowledge your online donations. Be honest and clear about how you're spending your donors' money Earn their trust with your candor. And always provide an easy-to-use "contact us" feature so they can submit questions and comments. Ask directly Be clear about what actions you want your web visitors to take. Don't be shy about requesting donations and calling on them to take action. Use keywords to describe the work you do You want to make those words prominent in your headings and introductory copy. Remember that your online readers will include people who have come across you by searching online for information about the subject of your work, as well as those who are looking for your nonprofit by name. You want to be certain that those people "searching by subject" will find you. Experiment with investing in search engine marketing Google Grants and its paid-search service AdWords is a good place to begin. Pay attention to what people are saying about your organization Set up Google alerts to see when and how your organization is mentioned in blogs, the media, and other online contexts (and participate in the conversation whenever possible). Also, check to see how your organization is ranked on nonprofit rating websites such as Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and how your clients and volunteers rate you on Yelp.com or GreatNonprofits.org.

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Nonprofit Kit For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 09-23-2021

Creating and running a nonprofit organization can be a gratifying and worthwhile endeavor. Success depends on developing a good idea that meets a real need, testing that idea, planning (and planning some more), and inspiring others. Though the work is demanding, it’s also deeply rewarding.

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How to Organize and Interpret Survey Responses to Market Your Nonprofit

Article / Updated 02-22-2017

After you have survey results, you will need to utilize the responses to help you better market your nonprofit. You can compile the responses by hand or use a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel or Google Spreadsheet to tally responses. Of course, if you’ve used an online surveying service, it will compile the answers for you. If your survey responders identify themselves and you want to keep track of information and opinions they share to inform your fundraising or volunteer-recruitment staff, you want to incorporate their information into the database you’re developing of your supporters. Check Idealware for recent reviews of Constituent Relationship Management software options. Such programs allow you to record every point of connection — from workshop attendance to dance contestant to donor — you may have with an individual. If you don’t want to go that route, Microsoft Access and Filemaker Pro are commonly used tools that can be adapted to your needs. You may discover that you serve several distinct groups of people. For example, low-income students may use the library after school and visit your exhibits while they’re there. Middle-income mothers from the immediate neighborhood may bring their toddlers to the library for afternoon story time and take advantage of your programs. And wealthy older adults may volunteer as docents, serve on your board, and attend your organization’s panel discussions. With this valuable information, you may be able to recognize ways to reach more people who resemble the ones you’re already serving. The more challenging task is to reach and entice new groups of people. Do people you don’t know gather at your organization’s programs? Sponsor free drawings in which contestants compete for prizes by filling out forms with their names, email addresses, and phone numbers. An advantage of designing a survey online is that you can make it engaging by using the techniques of branching or piping. In such a survey, someone’s answer to one question alters the next question she’s asked. For example, if you were to say that you preferred ice cream to pie for dessert, you would next be asked if you preferred chocolate, vanilla, or spumoni. If you discover that your target audience likes your program offerings but finds the times you offer them inconvenient, do you want to experiment with new times and formats? For instance, do people find Sunday afternoons (when the library is closed) to be more convenient? What other barriers inhibit their involvement? Maybe mothers with toddlers want to come to your lectures but need childcare. Perhaps you charge a modest admission fee for lectures but students find that charge to be too high. One of your most difficult marketing tasks is analyzing the very basis of what you do and how you do it. You may feel that your historical society’s close working relationship with libraries is its greatest asset, but the surveys may point out that those libraries are cold and musty during winter months. You may do better by taking over a neighborhood restaurant and creating a “warmer” atmosphere — even offering hot gingerbread and cider.

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Survey Your Constituents to Gain Important Marketing Information for Your Nonprofit

Article / Updated 02-22-2017

You may never discover who reads about your nonprofit organization in the newspaper or sees your sign every day on the bus, but some people — those with whom you directly communicate — can be identified. Start by defining your core group — your most important constituents — and work out from there. Suppose that your organization is a small historical society that organizes exhibits and panel discussions at three libraries in your town, publishes a quarterly newsletter, and maintains a website featuring news and information about its collection. Your current constituents (or stakeholders, if you want to use a common nonprofit term), working from the core to the outer boundaries, include the following: Your board and staff (and their friends and relations) Your docents and volunteers Families and organizations that donate materials to your collection Local library staff and board members People attending your panel discussions Schools and other groups visiting your exhibits Scholars and other archivists writing to ask about your holdings Patrons of the three libraries Subscribers to your quarterly newsletter People visiting your organization’s website Drawing up this list of interested people is easy enough. But for marketing purposes, you need to know as much as possible about the characteristics, backgrounds, and interests of each group. Some things you can do to collect this sort of information include Creating a database of your supporters by gathering names and addresses from every possible source within your organization — items like checks from donors, subscription forms from online newsletter subscribers, sign-up sheets from volunteers, and email messages sent to the “contact us” address on your website. Enter these names and addresses in a database that can sort them by last name, type of contact, and date of entry; if you’re planning to send traditional mail to them, sort them by zip code. Articles at Idealware can help you choose a database software program. Review the zip codes appearing most frequently on your list. If you’re in the United States, you can visit the U.S. Census Bureau website and get demographic information about residents in those zip code areas. Asking a few standard questions of schools or other groups when they call to sign up for a tour. Don’t engage in a lengthy interview, but find out how they heard about your program, why they want to visit it, and whether they have other needs you may be able to address. You can gather similar information when collecting registrations online. Inserting brief, clearly worded and inviting surveys in the programs at your public events. At the beginning and end of an event, make a public pitch explaining why it’s so important for people to respond to the surveys. Make pencils or pens available. Create incentives for completing the form, such as a free museum membership for a person whose survey is drawn at random. Make it easy for visitors to your website to subscribe to announcements or services, and send a brief survey to them by email. The higher your response rate, the more accurate and useful the survey information will be. Your surveying may be quantitative (measuring the degree to which people do something or believe something) or qualitative (going deeper into understanding their beliefs and behaviors). Generally quantitative surveys are distributed and collected — either as paper documents or online — and qualitative surveys are presented by an interviewer in a guided conversation. Be aware that there’s an art and a science to writing an effective survey: The way questions are worded can influence the answers you get, and you want to receive clear, candid responses. If you want help developing your survey, check with local colleges and universities for faculty members or graduate students who understand survey techniques and who may be willing to give you some guidance. You can also find survey subscription services and sample surveys on the web that give you ideas about wording questions. Three such services are SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, and SurveyGizmo. Each offers somewhat different features and pricing models. All of them will distribute your surveys by email and tally the results for you. At the Nonprofit Kit page at Dummies.com, you can find two sample surveys that may suggest wording for your survey questions.

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What You Need to Know about Building a Facility for Your Nonprofit

Article / Updated 02-22-2017

What if no existing building suits your nonprofit organization’s needs? You may be in for a major effort to substantially renovate a space or construct a new building. If you’re one of these brave and hardy types, here is some information you might need before you jump into the project. Even a small organization with the right board and campaign leadership can manage a successful capital campaign if its expectations are reasonable. So can organizations whose projects are happening at the right place and at the right time — such as those organizations based in community redevelopment areas or low-interest bank loans for community development. To determine whether your organization can manage a capital campaign, you need to plan (no surprise, right?). Your facility plan should ask hard questions, including the following: What will the project cost? Are your board members in a position to contribute to a capital campaign above and beyond their usual annual gifts to your organization? Do public or foundation resources in your region support capital projects? Are they likely contributors? Do you have staff knowledge and time to contribute to this effort? Having examined these preliminary questions, organizations that are considering capital campaigns often go through a planning step called a feasibility study — research most often led by a consultant who interviews people who support the organization and other generous donors in their communities whose grants and gifts are essential to its success. As with other types of planning, you’re gathering information from key stakeholders, but you’re focusing your attention on those who may become contributors. Through these interviews, the consultant estimates how much the organization is likely to raise with a capital campaign.

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Know Your Mission Before Entering the Nonprofit World

Article / Updated 02-22-2017

People form nonprofit organizations in order to work toward changing some condition in the world, either for a specific group of people or for society in general. The overall goal or purpose of a nonprofit is known as its mission. Taking the time needed to clearly outline a nonprofit’s mission is time well spent because the mission guides the activities of the organization, helps the nonprofit’s directors decide how to allocate resources wisely, and serves as a measure for evaluating the accomplishments of the group. It’s also important to examine your personal mission before launching a nonprofit. You’re creating a legal entity that has responsibilities for reporting to both the state and federal governments. If the organization grows to the point where you must hire employees, you’re responsible for paying regular salaries and providing adequate benefits. And although you can be compensated for your work as a nonprofit staff member, you can’t develop equity in the organization or take away any profits at the end of the year. Setting up a nonprofit Nearly all nonprofit organizations are established as corporations under the laws of a particular state. If you’re located in Iowa and you plan to do most of your work in that state, you follow the laws in Iowa to set up the basic legal structure of a nonprofit corporation. Although you’ll find some differences from state to state, in general, the process requires writing and submitting articles of incorporation to the state and developing bylaws, the rules under which the corporation will operate. After your nonprofit is established under your state laws, the next step is applying for 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. This step requires completing and submitting IRS Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ. If you submit Form 1023, you will need to specify in some detail the proposed activities of the new organization, and you’re asked for projected revenue and expenses for the year in which you apply and two years into the future. You can’t complete this form in one afternoon. It requires substantial time and thought to develop the necessary material and should be reviewed by an accountant and legal representative before filing. Making plans and being flexible After you start managing a nonprofit organization, you’ll discover that planning is your best friend. Every task from budgeting to grant writing requires that you make plans for the future. And you need to do a substantial amount of planning before you’re ready to send in your IRS application for tax exemption. Don’t be frightened by this recommendation to plan. The act of planning fundamentally comes down to thinking through what you’re going to do as well as how and when you’re going to do it. Your plan becomes the map that guides you toward achieving your goals and your nonprofit mission. Planning is something that you should pay attention to every day. You should always begin with a plan, but that doesn’t mean that plans shouldn’t be altered when the situation calls for it. Circumstances change; flexibility and adaptability are good traits to nurture if you’re running a nonprofit organization. The nonprofit world is bigger than a breadbox The nonprofit sector is larger than many people realize. Here are some figures from the National Center for Charitable Statistics, based on IRS data, and the Independent Sector, regarding 501(c)(3) public charities in the United States: Nearly 1.2 million organizations were registered as public charities with the IRS in 2015. Assets held by these groups in 2013 totaled more than $3 trillion. The number of public charities increased by nearly 23 percent between 2008 and 2015. Nearly 30 percent of public charities that reported to the IRS in 2012 had annual expenses of less than $100,000.

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Realizing the Benefits and Risks of Capital Campaigns for Your Nonprofit

Article / Updated 02-22-2017

Before your nonprofit takes on a capital campaign, you should be aware of the benefits and risks of your undertaking. Although you may describe your request for capital support as a one-time need to potential supporters, many campaign donors continue to give after you finish the campaign project. They’ve been introduced to the agency, they’ve left their names in its lobby or attached to a scholarship fund, and they want to be sure that it succeeds over time. In the best situations, capital campaigns strengthen the nonprofit organization’s programs both by enabling it to improve services and by broadening its donor base. A capital project also can benefit staff morale because it improves working conditions. In recent years, some thoughtful foundations, service organizations, and consulting groups have advocated for better “capitalization” of nonprofit organizations. Their point is that donors — particularly foundations — have encouraged nonprofits to come up with break-even financial results year after year. Although breaking even is much better than going into debt, emphasizing it as a virtue means that nonprofit organizations rarely put money aside for an unexpected crisis or infrastructure investment. No for-profit business would thrive under these circumstances. And nonprofit organizations, many of which are formed to tackle important social and educational needs, should be just as innovative as businesses — maybe even more so. A campaign to raise “working capital” for your nonprofit that you can use to innovate or to weather a financial shortfall may be harder to explain to donors than a campaign to build a building, but it may be just as important to your organization’s vitality. Checkout the Nonprofit Kit page at Dummies.com for some key papers about capitalization that may help your nonprofit make the case for a campaign to raise working capital. Although capital projects are meant to enhance your organization’s programs and vitality, capital campaigns also have their drawbacks: Capital campaigns may detract from organization’s fundraising for operations. If you ask a donor to contribute to a building project, he may not contribute to the organization’s ongoing programs in the same year. Capital campaigns may double, triple, or quadruple an organization’s fundraising expenses while they’re being conducted. Campaigns that don’t succeed or that drag on for a long time can damage an organization’s reputation. Because buildings tend to be visible entities, the public may be more aware of an organization’s slow-moving construction project than of a problem with its programs or services. If the campaign doesn’t succeed, it is important to discuss the situation with its donors, and, of course, honor the terms under which the gifts were made. Donors may want their contributions to be returned, or — if taking the tax deduction is important to them — they may choose to alter the terms and purposes of their gifts. Organizations often have turnover in their fundraising staffs after a capital campaign. Employees may stick around to achieve the campaign goal, but a heavy workload may cause burnout. In short, capital projects offer opportunities and pitfalls, buy-in and burnout, and new donor development and loss of current annual fund donors. But when completed, they often pay for concrete, lasting benefits and are worthy of celebration.

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Pre-Proposal Tasks for Your Nonprofit Grant Application

Article / Updated 02-22-2017

Generally, a grant writer develops a proposal by talking with staff members, volunteers, or the board about a project idea. Before setting fingers to keyboard, the writer should investigate the following: What is the demonstrated need in the community for the work you intend to do? Who are the constituents who will benefit from your efforts? (Find out everything you can about them.) What are others doing in this field? What particular strengths does your nonprofit bring to the project? Specifically, what do you want to accomplish? What will it cost to do it? Sometimes a funding source announces a specific initiative for which it’s inviting proposals — called a request for proposals (an “RFP”) or a program announcement. When you respond to an RFP, you’re trying to convince the foundation or government agency that your nonprofit is the best one for the job. Asking for permission to ask Many funding sources screen proposal ideas before they invite extensive, detailed documents. This enables them to encourage only truly promising requests, saving both themselves and grant seekers the time and effort that goes into reviewing and writing longer proposals. When you encounter a request for a letter of inquiry (LOI), boil down the essence of the proposal into a readable, compelling letter. The letter doesn’t ask for a grant directly, but it asks for permission to submit more detailed information. Most letters of inquiry are two or three pages long. They may be made up of short answers to a foundation’s online forms. Follow the foundation’s stated preferences. Check out different types of full proposals and a foundation’s budget form at the Nonprofit Kit page at Dummies.com. Passing the screening questionnaire Some funding agencies screen potential applicants by asking them to respond to short questionnaires that are found on the funders’ websites. Questions often determine specific eligibility — such as whether the nonprofit organization serves a particular geographic area or the size of its budget. You may have to provide your nonprofit’s federal EIN so that the foundation can confirm with the Internal Revenue Service that you are a qualified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. In many cases, if you “pass” one of these surveys, you’ll receive login information that will permit you to submit more information — either a letter of inquiry or a full proposal. Usually, you’ve learned that you’re eligible to apply but you still don’t know if your application will be a competitive one. Don’t pass off the letter of inquiry or questionnaire as an inconsequential hurdle: First impressions can be lasting impressions.

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What You Should Do after You Host an Event for Your Nonprofit

Article / Updated 02-22-2017

Write thank-you notes soon after the event to all your nonprofit’s committee members and volunteers and make them as specific and personal as possible. They don’t have to be long. Many people find handwritten notes of two or three lines to be much more sincere and memorable than boilerplate letters. The thank-you letters you send to the attendees should clearly define how much money was donated and the cost of goods and services for the event. For example, if you host a dinner and the ticket cost is $50 per person and the food and beverage cost is $25 per person, the thank-you letter should thank the attendee for the $50 contribution and mention that the tax-deductible amount of the donation is $25. Thank-you letters for purchasing auction items should reference the amount paid for an item and the fair market value for the item as provided by the item’s donor. It is a good idea to add language like, “Please consult your tax advisor for specific tax advice.” Event donations can be tricky, and this can keep you out of the business of providing tax advice. Thank-you letters also should be sent to any person or business that made an in-kind contribution to the event. If you held an auction at the event, you can note that the auction generated $10,000 that wouldn’t have been possible without the generous donation from the XYZ Gift Emporium. You should also hold a brief gathering for your key organizers and volunteers a week or two after the event. You can thank them personally again for their effort, but the real purpose is to get their ideas about what worked, what needs to be improved, and what should happen in the future. You may want to invite a few attendees to this meeting and solicit feedback from their perspective. Good records of this wrap-up meeting are a jumping-off point for planning the following year’s program.

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How to Make a Memorable Invitation for Your Nonprofit’s Event

Article / Updated 02-22-2017

When it’s time to host a special event for your nonprofit, make your invitation something your potential guests will open and remember. If it’s a physical invitation, addressing the envelope by hand and using stamps rather than metered postage makes it look more personal, and an intriguing phrase or logo on the outside may lead to its being opened. What do recipients see first when they open your invitation? Most invitations are made up of an outer folded piece, a reply card, and a reply envelope. Want some more attention? What if a compelling photograph slips out of the envelope? Or a small black cat, spider, or bat sticker falls out of your Halloween invitation? Even if you choose to include all of these bells and whistles, make clarity a priority. Make sure the reader of your invitation can easily see who’s extending the invitation, what the event is, where and when it’s being held, how much it costs, and how to respond to the invitation. If people have to search for these basics, the invitation will land in the recycling bin. People look forward to your event more if other people they know are going to be there. Make sure the names of the people on your event committee are clearly and prominently presented. Also list top sponsors (cash and in-kind) on the invitation so invitees can see what businesses are involved in the event. These tips are equally true for the electronic version of your invitation: Make it easy for your invitees to make reservations and send contributions. Print the address, phone number, and/or website to which your guest should respond somewhere on the reply card, even though it’s also printed on the reply envelope. Sometimes the pieces of an invitation become separated. You want your guests to readily know where to send their replies (and money!). For informal and low-cost events, you may want to send only an e-invitation, using a service such as EventBrite or Paperless Post, which will distribute your invitation, collect reservations, send reminders to your guests, and urge them to invite others through social media. If you have good email lists of your donors and contacts, this approach can save you postage costs and reduce paper waste. A few disadvantages are that it can be challenging to include full credit to sponsors, and some people still find electronic invitations to be informal, making your event seem less important to recipients.

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