Here is my advice for creatives interested in launching a non-profit organization

Nine out of ten times when a creative comes to me with a new project idea, they want to set it up as a non-profit organization.

While I appreciate the energy and focus that comes when someone launches their own organization, here is the advice that I give to individuals interested in launching their own organization:

Don’t Start Out As A Non-Profit

Instead of launching your idea as a non-profit organization, I would suggest that you utilize a fiscal sponsorship through an organization like Fractured Atlas to get started. Doing so enables you to have the same benefits as a non-profit without having to file expensive paperwork to incorporate and manage a board of directors. Ultimately, a fiscal sponsorship allows you to keep you attention on the task at hand, which is serving your community.

Non-Profits Take A LOT Of Time

When you launch a non-profit, the majority of your time goes to managing the non-profit instead of creating beautiful things or serving your desired community.

Don’t Do It By Yourself

Collaboration is key to getting started. Your great idea is probably already happening elsewhere. Before you launch a non-profit, look to see if there are opportunities to partner with another organization.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed

Founders get overloaded and overwhelmed quickly. I have had so many meetings with founders who started their work in non-profit for all the right reasons but couldn’t get to the work they really wanted to be doing because they essentially added a second full-time job running the organization, which took them away from their programmatic work.

Don’t Forget To Figure In Overhead Expenses

Administrative costs are real. Filing taxes each year, thinking about marketing, social media, grant proposals, and managing your board of directors are all things that cost money and reduce your ability to provide direct programmatic support. I typically recommend adding 30% on top of any budget for indirect costs.

Don’t Expect A Salary For At Least 4–5 Years

This will not be a way for you to make a full-time living. I know that a lot of people hope that their non-profit idea will ultimately help pay the bills. While in some cases this work in the favor of founders, it is often not the case. In fact, most non-profit startups spend WAY more money than they make in an effort to get the organization up and running. Plan for at least 4–5 years of being in existence before you bring in enough to be paid.

I am not trying to discourage you from launching your idea into the world, however, I am suggesting that you think deeply about the points above before you launch so that you are clear about the potential bumps in the road as you build.

What challenges have you faced while launching your organization or project into the world?

Photo Credit: Andy Hermawan

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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