Step 0. Becoming an Official Non Profit
There are many types of nonprofits but one of the most common is the 501(c)(3). This allows you to be tax exempt. That's beyond the scope of this post but the IRS has a decent summary of the process. You'll likely want to have a list of people to be on your board and come up with some basic articles of incorporation and bylaws that cover things like how often the board meets, your purpose and more.
You'll also want to be registered as a business somewhere (incorporate) and register with some states to collect donations, which may require the use of a registered agent. Here's a checklist that should help.
One of the first things you'll want to do is setup an email system for you and your employees/volunteers. One of the easiest ways to get started is to use Google Apps for Non Profits. This will get you emails for your employees (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org) and a way to manage them. You get Google Docs/Drive, Google Calendar and Google Hangouts for free which can be a great way to jump start communication. Google Hangouts on Air allows for broadcasting live or recorded content to followers via YouTube.
Don't like Google? Another option is Office 365 which gives your organization Office and Outlook online plus SkyDrive and Lync/Skype. Importantly, both options work with most mobile devices and should be available in most countries.
Finally, consider switching out or adding on certain pieces for best of breed software you prefer. For example, you may find sharing files is easier with Box or video conferencing with Skype or Zoom. You can add MailChimp to manage contacts and send emails. All these tools should play nicely together with a little setup work.
Don't forget about a way to get physical mail either! You can rent a business mailbox from your local UPS or shipping store or get a PO Box from the postal service. Be sure to make sure it supports street addressing and not a just a PO Box address (123 Anywhere Street #123 vs PO Box 123). Certain mail/packages can't be sent to PO Boxes.
Next up, you want to establish a web site and some social media presence. One easy way to get started is to buy a domain name (yourproject.com or yourgroup.org) from a domain registrar like NameCheap, 1&1, Hover or any of the many others.
You’ll then want to setup a simple WordPress site or use a site from a website builder like Weebly, Wix or SquareSpace. Keep in mind these options are quick to setup but will allow less customization. After that, you'll want to setup some basic social media presence such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn and get Google Analytics set up so you know who is visiting. Tools such as Hootsuite can help you manage your social media.
Step 3. Mo Money, Mo Problems (Dolla Dolla Bill, Y'All)
As a nonprofit fundraising will be important, to say the least. You can be most effective by going a step further from email and social media and managing your donors using a customer relationship management software or CRM. This software will help you improve communication with existing donors and volunteer, as well as attracting new ones, and track pledges, grants and more. Many CRMs such as Salesforce or Dynamics offer free or low cost licenses to non profits. Smaller options include the open source SugarCRM or vTiger.
The next thing you'll want to do is get a bank account. Most large banks such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and US Bank offer accounts for nonprofits. You can also go with a local credit union or bank if you don't need international services or a network of branches. Make sure the bank you choose allows mobile deposits. You can track your accounts with a basic accounting software like FreeAgent or simply use your bank’s online account software.
For online donations, you can use Paypal for Non Profits, which is the most popular option, or something like Google Wallet. You can also join a giving platform like GlobalGiving (DSO's page) which helps connect donors to grassroots projects. For a more crowdfunding approach there is Razoo or Crowdrise. And if you need to integrate donations directly into a website you can use Stripe (programming required). PayPal is probably easiest and cheapest for most organizations.
Also make sure your site is registered with a site like Charity Navigator so people know you are a legitimate nonprofit.
Step 4. Friends, Volunteers, Country (wo) men, Lend Me Your Time
Now that you're all set up you may need to find some volunteers to help with specific things - website, social media, accounting, taxes, a strategic or technology initiative, etc.
One way to help manage all these tools is to establish a technology document with basic instructions and a list of the tools and their role in your non profit. Someone should be CIO or Director of Technology and then you can establish people in charge of specific areas - social media or donor communication that work with the CIO to determine the best tools to meet the organizations needs. Be sure to keep up with best practices using resources like the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN).
A few options are LinkedIn for Non Profits, TapRoot, TechSoup, and of course, Development Solutions Organization.
Feel free to contact us if you’d like to partner or volunteer (we’re particularly looking for a good secretary candidate).
Step 5. Change the World!
Contributed by Anthony Buchanan