Seeking Non-Profit Status for A New Ministry? When to File and When To Fold?


by Marie Palacios

Do you feel called to serve the community?

Do you believe that establishing a non-profit organization is the best or only way to bring your “mission” to life?

Before we jump into today’s blog, I want to offer a disclaimer. It is NOT my intent to burst anyone’s dream bubble or cast doubt on your sense of calling. It IS my intent to encourage prospective founders to take a step backward to evaluate all options and so that you have greater clarity when you do move forward!

Funding for Good offers free 15-minute strategy sessions for prospective clients and many of those sessions are requested by individuals seeking help to establish a faith-based non-profit.

During the conversation, we ask a series of strategic question designed to educate and equip individuals with basic information, so they can determine if they should file for tax-exempt status or fold their mission into an existing organization or initiative!

Most people forget that non-profits are BUSINESSES that simply hold a tax-exempt status. Often, founders have a “mission mindset” and file for non-profit status assuming they will be able to secure grants and give all of their services away for FREE!

While the intention is beautiful, it is not a practical or sustainable business model.

Before you file, take a moment to consider the following 3 tips:

1.     Evaluate your motives: WHY do you want to start a non-profit?

  1. I want to start a non-profit, so I can qualify for grants!
  2. I can’t do this on my own and need board members and staff to help me run things.
  3. I have been doing this for free and could get paid for my work if I become the Director of my own organization.
  4. I am passionate about my cause and want to dedicate my life to this “mission.”

If any of the above motives ring true, check out our blog “Are you REALLY ready to start a Non-Profit?”

2.     Explore ALL your options

Non-profits are A LOT of work. They are messy, time-consuming, but can also be extremely impactful when done right! Doing it right, requires strategic partnerships. Whether you establish a new organization or decide to fold your mission into an existing one, the following questions are key to long-term success:

  1. Who else in this community is impacted by the same issues I am hoping to resolve?
  2. Who shares a similar vision or mission (churches, businesses, area non-profits)?
  3. Is there a local non-profit organization that has a vested interest in offering the services/programs I am passionate about?
  4. Is there a regional, state, or national organization with a proven track record that is addressing the same issue?
  5. Is there a church in the community that shares your mission/vision that might be willing to serve as a fiscal sponsor and primary partner in your initiative?
3.     Engage the RIGHT people

Once you have explored the need and existing community resources it is important to ask:
  1. Does it make sense to become an affiliate group/chapter under an established non-profit organization (for state/national organizations that have local chapters)?
  2. Can I partner with an existing non-profit that supports a similar initiative?
  3. Would an established non-profit be interested in allowing me to launch a pilot program to see if we are a good fit for a long-term partnership?
  4. Which faith group/church shares my vision, core values, and commitment to the mission and how can I begin a constructive dialogue?

At the end of the day, you will probably realize that there are more ways to fulfill your calling than by establishing and managing a new non-profit organization.

If you take the time to EVALUATE, EXPLORE, and ENGAGE key members of your community, new doors will open.