While writing your nonprofit paperwork, you will begin to define the passion that sparked the idea for founding a nonprofit. The first step is to talk to anyone and everyone who will listen about your idea. Meet with local nonprofit founders to find out how they got started. Share with them your idea and ask for feedback. You will begin to shape your idea and also gain invaluable first-hand knowledge on how to start a nonprofit from the professionals. Meet with Executive Directors of nonprofits who provide similar services to the services you might want to provide. Share your idea with your friends and family because you will need their support and time later to help you.
At the beginning of my journey to found the San Diego Women Film Foundation, I met with Ethan van Thilo, Founder of the Media Arts Center of San Diego that produces the annual San Diego Latino Film Festival. Ethan is a soft-spoken, wise man who has always provided me with valuable advice from his experience and expertise. This first meeting began a multi-year relationship and assistance. The Media Arts Center has partnered with my organization to co-host film screenings, develop youth film programs including renting us film equipment for our after school program at a very reasonable rate and managed to help me through a crisis that threatened to close our organization.
Hopefully, I don’t need to mention this, but meet with these folks at a time that is convenient for them. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee, lunch or a glass of wine and do your homework ahead of time so you know their background, the organization and have thoughtful questions prepared.
Now it is time to develop this passion into a succinct story. Your story is why you want to start a nonprofit. Most likely the reason you want to help is to make a change or to better a situation. The key points to your story are personal experience, explaining why you were inspired to start a nonprofit, who your organization is helping and how and where you will serving this population. This story will help you spread the word about your nonprofit to get others involved to support your cause.
Here are some questions to help you develop your story:
- Why do you want to help? They “why” is your passion.
- Who do you want to help? It can be men, women, children, animals or inanimate objects. What type of economic, cultural and ethnic background does your population have?
- How do you want to help? Define the services you will provide to serve the “who” to fulfill the “why”. How will your services help them? Are these services the most effective way of helping this specific population? Are there other nonprofits providing the same services you will be providing? Research if the population you want to serve actually needs help, specifically the services you want to provide.
- Where do you want to help? Define the geographical area you will serve (local, regional, state-wide, national, international).
One of the better founder stories I have heard is from Deborah Lindholm, founder and Executive Director of the Foundation for Women. She has an incredible charisma and way of telling a story that naturally draws in her audience. Her stories have created the primary fundraising tool utilized by the Foundation for Women (FFW) to support its programs. Here is Deborah’s story:
“When I talk of the Foundation for Women, I say that God had a very good idea about 15 years ago and I was very blessed to hear it. I knew I was supposed to start something to empower women, a foundation – a base of support for women. I first heard about microcredit and how it was a solution for poverty at a Rotary Club meeting. In 1995, I got on a plane to go see microcredit programs in action. I kept listening to the voice that told me I was supposed to start something although I still did not know how I could help. At a friend’s home in October 1997, I heard Devaraj’s (Founder of Grama Vidiyal, a microfinance institution operating in the Tamil Nadu area of South India) story and how he has helped hundreds of women out of poverty through microcredit and could reach one million women with the group’s help. Devaraj asked: Who will help? No one raised their hand. I was standing in the back and said, “The Foundation for Women will help.” At that point, the Foundation did not exist. Once the commitment to help impoverished women with microcredit was in place, the opportunities for service have continually shown up. The Foundation for Women was founded in December 1997 and today, Devaraj has helped over 1,000,000 women (and impacted millions of family members) with the financial support of the Foundation for Women.”
Once you have honed your “story”, you need to get your story out into the public. A great way to start is by speaking at service groups like Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Elks, and Soroptimist. Speaking in front of people will give you feedback and help you to continue to refine your story. You will also learn how to tailor your talk for different groups to focus on certain stories or areas of your nonprofit that will be of interest.