“I’ve been dancing my whole life, and I really believe in the power of it,” says Maria Gutierrez, founder and executive director of Groove NYC, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing a new, more open style of dance to schools, communities, and workplaces in the New York City area.
A dance fitness instructor since age 15, when Maria learned about The World Groove Movement, she decided to shift her focus, immediately signing up to become the first licensed Groove Facilitator in New York City. Shortly after that, she founded Groove NYC.
“Groove is about getting people to move authentically, without judgment,” she says. “I fell in love with the simplicity of it, the community-building, the fact that we don’t care about the choreography, that there’s no right way or wrong way to move your body.”
As Maria continued teaching Groove, she began to take note of certain communities that, due to lack of funding, were unable to join the movement and benefit from this new style of self-expression.
“The goal, particularly with youth, is to make them feel good about themselves, to make them build confidence in moving their body authentically,” she says. “In my mind, I want to bring this to people for free. I [knew that] if I really wanted to take this to the next level, I needed to be able to move dollars into sectors that have no money to pay us.”
That’s when Maria decided to turn Groove NYC into a nonprofit organization.
Starting a nonprofit, Step 1: Research
“My very first step was to meet with the Small Business Administration to do a lot of research on how to start a nonprofit,” Maria says. The Small Business Administration provides aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners with a variety of workshops and classes, and Maria took full advantage of what they had to offer.
- Connect with your local small business administration, chamber of commerce, or workforce development office. If they don’t have the resources you’re looking for, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
- Check out resources (available digitally and in print) available at business libraries like the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library and online at the Nonprofit Law Blog.
Explore nonprofit data, profiles, funding opportunities, and more, all available at Candid (a new collaborative initiative of the organizations formerly known as The Foundation Center and GuideStar).
Starting a nonprofit, Step 2: Networking
Maria knew that reaching out to other nonprofit organizations for guidance would be an important step. “I talked to a lot of nonprofits, including Idealist, who helped me a great deal,” she says. “I asked a lot of questions and talked to [organizations] that were already successful. They’re already funding their vision and their mission, and they know how to do it.”
The key for Maria was filling any knowledge gaps while also growing her network. “I go to a lot of networking events,” she says. “I connect with city officials, board administrators for education. I’m everywhere, because I don’t know what I don’t know.”
- Search nonprofit organizations on Idealist to explore issue areas, and to find people and resources.
- Grow your network on digital platforms.
Attend local networking and social events and start moving in the same circles as the people you’re looking to work with. Try searching Idealist Day activities near you, browse listings on Meetup, and check out upcoming events hosted by Creative Mornings.
Starting a nonprofit, Step 3: A Board of Directors
Through her new connections, Maria was able to form Groove NYC’s executive board. “My greatest goal was to bring talent to task,” she says. “I needed to bring people in that have strengths that I don’t have. I can Groove people all day long, but I can’t necessarily do all of the other stuff.”
- Reach out to new contacts and talk to board members of organizations you’ve connected with.
- Look to your own volunteers, friends, and philanthropic individuals with the necessary skills and interest in helping your mission in a bigger way.
- Use online tools like Candid, LinkedIn Board Connect, VolunteerMatch, and Taproot Foundation to find and vet board members.
The result of Maria’s work was the creation of a diverse executive board that includes Idealist Day Sock Drive organizer Dori Cocoros as president. “We run from 30 years old to 60 years old, different genders, different ethnicities, because you learn so much,” Maria says. “The knowledge that they bring to the table I would never have, because I can only speak from my own life experience. I think that’s one of the most important things about bringing a board together.”
Starting a nonprofit, Step 4: 501(c)3 Status and fiscal sponsors
In order to accept tax-deductible donations, nonprofits must file for 501(c)3 status, a process which can prove arduous.
Instead, Maria opted to work with a fiscal sponsor—an entity that accepts and distributes tax-deductible donations on behalf of another organization.
“We use Fractured Atlas, which is one of the largest global fiscal sponsors,” Maria says. “They take a percentage, but they do all of the recording and they send letters to your donors, so it’s a win-win.”
- Use the Fiscal Sponsor Directory to find an organization near you.
- You can also search your local Community Foundation for help finding qualified fiscal sponsors.
- Review the guidelines in the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors to ensure best practices and make sure the sponsor you choose is right for you.
Use Candid to vet your chosen fiscal sponsor and avoid any unwelcome surprises.
The benefits of starting a nonprofit
“When you go from a for-profit to a nonprofit, your vision changes,” Maria says. “As a for-profit, measuring our impact was, ‘How many people we can we get into a class to fill a room?’ And that’s fine—they have to run their companies—but our impact right now is completely social-emotional learning and community based. We did a free, hundred-person Groove in Times Square, and how we measured the impact was that everybody was hugging and kissing at the end of the night and had a great time. That’s all we cared about.”
Though Groove NYC only launched as a nonprofit in December 2019, Maria is already looking to expand her efforts—and her staff. “We need people in administration, social media, anybody that has any talent in that way. And we want interns—anyone studying early education, physical education, anyone in college.”
Still, for Maria, the biggest benefit to turning Groove NYC from a for-profit to a nonprofit has been the ability to reach schools and community centers that never would have been able to Groove otherwise. “We presented to a Young Women’s Leadership Academy,” she says, “ and I knew the conversation was coming. I [told them], ‘I already have the funding. It’s not going to cost you a penny.’ And they were like, ‘Can you come tomorrow?’ I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding than being able to give back at this level.”