Should I Start a New Nonprofit?

Please note that this list is not comprehensive, nor are the questions recorded by priority. However, the questions can and should be used to start the necessary conversations with potential board members and other constituents.

Community Need

    • Have you clearly defined the community need/problem that you are trying to address? Have you found or conducted needs assessments that support this identified need?
    • Is the problem that you plan to address an ongoing need or will it be solved within one or two years?
    • What other organizations provide this help or service? How do their services differ from what you plan to do? Check out the agencies located in South Central PA listed in the Nonprofit Organization Directory.
  • If you duplicate other programs in the region, does this mean the need is so great that an additional program/agency is needed?  If so, do you have documentation that supports the extent of the problem?

Strategic Affiliations/Collaborations

  • Have you talked to other organizations that serve the same target population that you plan to serve? If so:
    • What differentiates your approach to this need or population? If the differentiation is geographic, is there another nonprofit you could work with in the area you are serving?
    • Would they be willing to take you under their wing as an affiliated program?
    • Would they consider a joint program venture?
    • What back office services would they be able to provide for your program in an effort to reduce costs and increase efficiency?
    • Have you explored multiple affiliation possibilities?

Financial Considerations

  • What are your primary funding sources? Have you researched similar organization within or outside the region to determine what your funding mix should be?
  • With all the nonprofits currently in existence, what competitive advantage do you have with regard to your fundraising efforts and to your market share?
  • With this effort be sustainable for more than five years? If not, how easy will it be to end the project and ease out of your commitments?
  • Because not-for-profits exist for the public good, will your effort be worth its cost to the community you will be serving?

Staffing Considerations: Paid Employees and Volunteers

  • How many professional staff will you need to maintain a consistent, adequate service delivery system?  Have you built in the need for staff vacations/retreats? What types of qualifications will your staff need?
  • Will your budget be able to maintain these positions longer than 3 years, maintaining market rate salary and benefit packages?
  • Is the agency big enough to need a bookkeeper or secretary? If so, will you be able to financially maintain that position? If not:
    • Do you have someone on your board who is qualified to assist with your accounting needs?
    • Will you be able to recruit a volunteer to assist with the secretarial/receptionist duties?
    • Will the executive director be able to manage the tasks typically assigned to a secretary/receptionist?
    • Have you considered outsourcing these back office services, working with another agency to ensure that your needs are met?
  • Have you assessed the overhead and indirect costs that you will need to maintain?
  • Will your program/agency showcase a cause volunteers will be attracted to? If so, what type of volunteer will you attract (i.e. in-office volunteers, board members, etc.)?
  • Will you be able to build and sustain a volunteer board of directors? Will you be able to recruit and maintain board committees?
Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO)

If you have worked through all of these questions and your research indicates that starting a new nonprofit organization is in the best interests of your target audience and the community, please visit the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organization’s (PANO’s) website for more information about how to get started.

The Nonprofit Resource Network is building a repository of online resources needed routinely by employees working in the not-for-profit arena.

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