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Want to Start a Nonprofit? Keep These 3 Tips in Mind

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Allison Jones

A person painting the word "Create" in red paint.

There is a lot of buzz around social entrepreneurship—people increasingly want to do well while doing good, and are eager to launch organizations that give back. But what does it take to build an organization, especially if you’re right out of college?

Tim Ifill graduated from Haverford College in 2003 and wanted to change the world. The problem? There were very few opportunities available. Unlike for-profit companies, which might send recruiters to college or spend money advertising their jobs, nonprofits rarely stretch their limited budgets to include recruiting efforts. To solve this problem, Tim and his college roommate Matt Joyce launched Philly Fellows, a nonprofit that matches talented recent college graduates with nonprofits around Philadelphia to complete yearlong projects. Today, Philly Fellows has hundreds of alumni, many of whom are still working for the public good.

Moving from intention to action required collaboration, patience, and a willingness to network. If you're hoping to launch your own nonprofit, here are some of Tim's best tips on how to organize an idea for change.

How to launch a nonprofit

Build your network

"Every opportunity you have to build your network, take it. Many people think of networking as a bad thing; that it’s something people only do out of self-interest. But building up your network creates mutual benefits for everyone overall and creates a stronger nonprofit sector. We were successful because of the nonprofits in Philly. Once we were plugged into that, we were able to build this program. We spent 6-8 months organizing meetings with anyone who would be willing to meet with and legitimize us."

Focus on what you have to offer to your network

"Matt and I started this a year or so after we graduated from college. We didn’t know much about the nonprofit sector and didn’t have much in the way of a career history. But we had an idea and we felt like we could do something in Philly that would benefit the city and the sector. It was great to go to civic leaders and for them to get over their skepticism and sign on to the program. You’d think there’d be a story of us fighting to get through as 23-year-olds, but everyone in the nonprofit sector in Philly was so open and offered their assistance in various forms. What we were doing was asking them to sign on to something instead of helping us build something."

Stay connected to the impact of your work

"Because of Philly Fellows, I am in touch with so many different organizations but I am one-step-removed from the exciting stuff in the city. I feel disconnected at times. To stay plugged in to what's going on, I check in with the Fellows and their work to learn what they are doing on the ground. That way, when I’m running through spreadsheets and some of the less exciting (but important!) tasks, I am motivated by the excitement of our Fellows."

Additional Resources for Launching a Nonprofit

Allison Jones profile image

Allison Jones

To better support our community of job seekers and changemakers, as well as strengthen Idealist's position as a great place for nonprofit jobs, Allison supports Idealist Career Advice by sharing stories and tips on how to find, land, and love your social-impact career. She is currently the VP of Brand and Storytelling at Common Future.

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