Social Entrepreneurship: How To Launch A 501c3 Nonprofit

Here are seven lessons learned from social entrepreneurs, nonprofit founders and executive directors on how to launch and manage a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

Last Update: February 15, 2016

Are you ready to change the world? Do you support the arts, charities, education, politics, religion or research through philanthropic giving? If so, have you considered devoting more time and resources to what matters to you most?

If you’re passionate about solving larger problems at a grassroots level and taking on private interest or public concerns, a 501c3 nonprofit organization may be your next step in entrepreneurship.

Once you draft your mission statement, recruit board members and finalize the legal and administrative steps required within your state there are some tips you should consider to ensure success.

Here are seven lessons learned from social entrepreneurs, nonprofit founders and executive directors on how to launch and manage a 501c3 nonprofit organization.


1. Declare your mission.

Starting a nonprofit is just as much work as founding a for-profit company, but with a difference: you have not only an opportunity, but also a mandate, to make the world a better place. Concentrate all of your passion and energy on creating a company culture that is focused on your mission and enables you to leave a memorable mark upon those you serve.

Stacy Ratner, Founder and Executive Director at Open Books: @StacyJRatner


2. Allow the organization to grow.

It seems as though starting a nonprofit organization would be easy, since the founder clearly has good intentions. However, it’s easy to allow personal emotions to take over and negatively impact growth.

Creating a nonprofit organization does not give the founder “ownership” — in fact, believing the nonprofit “belongs” to any one person is the best way to see it crumble. Embracing diversity and surrounding the organization with individuals who know more than you will be invaluable.

Molly Reeser, Founder at Camp Casey: @CampCaseyMI


3. Create an exit plan.

Don’t rely on your personal passion alone to sustain a nonprofit organization. You might think that you’ll manage the organization the rest of your life, but you should build a strong exit plan from day one. This will force you to create a system that can sustain itself long after you are gone.

Jeremy Gregg, former Executive Director at Executives in Action: @JeremyGregg


4. Don’t do everything yourself.

Let go of the reins and delegate. When you want everything done your way you can impede creativity, effectiveness, and efficiency. Release the reins and be open to an end product and not the journey. This approach will help you delegate more, attain more goals, and decrease stress.

Jared Michael Mace, Founder and Executive Director at Hope4Hoopers: @Hope4Hoopers


5. Use your resources wisely.

You have to work hard to create uncommon results with very limited resources.  I think this is a challenge that all startups face, but it is particularly relevant when you’re dependent on philanthropic giving for revenue. People want to see measurable and significant achievements in return for their charitable dollars, regardless of the size of the contribution.

Bennett Rathbun, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Hope on a String: @HopeonaString


6. Stay positive, despite rejection.

You will receive a lot of “No’s” while fundraising in an unsure economic climate, but stay creative and positive during this time  and remember your mission — to help people.

Erica A. Harvey, Executive Director at The Breast Cancer Charities of America: @IGoPink


7. Utilize donations and volunteers.

Running a nonprofit is similar to launching a startup.  You need to be very efficient, spend on only what is absolutely necessary and keep a close eye on overhead, technology, and services spending. Try to get as much donated as possible.  Also, find great volunteers that can support your work internally.

Avis Richards, Founder at Birds Nest Foundation: @AvisRichards


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