If you had to start a nonprofit...
August 10, 2017 11:56 AM   Subscribe

I want to obtain the "Certified Nonprofit Accounting Professional" certification, a minor industry cert for (mostly non-CPA) bookkeepers and similar. A prerequisite is that I hold a position of financial responsibility in a non-profit for a certain period of time. The easiest way to do this is for me to start my own non-profit, but I'm not sure what I'd do with one if I had one.

My intention is to register a simple non-profit corporation and not bother with any of the more involved stuff like becoming a 403(b). While just being the owner of record would suffice for the certification, I'd like to actually do something, even if it's just running small fundraisers for other local groups.

My current line of work involves assisting non-profit bookkeepers with their day-to-day work, and I'm fairly certain I already have the sort of experience the CNAP people are aiming for with their experience requirement.

Does anyone have experience with little vanity charities that they could share? Are there any obvious concerns I'm missing here?
posted by 4th number to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Why couldn't you ask a new non-profit if you could sit on the board and help financially? I run a nonprofit and know I would LOVE if someone offered this skill. Memail me if you have interest in this!
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 12:34 PM on August 10 [5 favorites]


Yeah, join a board or volunteer to serve this role for a very nominal or no fee for an existing small, micro-budget non-profit. It seems like a big hassle to set up a legal non profit for no purpose except your job experience, when you can get that experience elsewhere.
posted by latkes at 12:49 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


This makes it sound like you also need a letter of recommendation from the nonprofit org:
Applicants must have at least 18 months of experience in a financial position within a nonprofit organization and submit a letter of recommendation from either a past or present employer to verify work experience.
Unless you're going to write your own recommendation, finding a non-profit to work with is the way to go.
posted by zamboni at 1:06 PM on August 10


To build on the advice above, treasurer is often the most difficult board position to fill, so your help would be especially welcome.

To your broader question, you don't just "register a simple non-profit corporation," at least in the U.S.. [NB: your reference to "becoming a 403(b)" confuses me because in the US, a 403(b) is a kind of retirement plan, pretty close to a 401k, that is available to some non-profits, which are generically known as 501(c)3 entities (in fact, there are several kinds of 501(c)x categories).] Yes, filing for federal and state tax exempt status is straightforward, but there's no guarantee of success especially if your organization smells like a "vanity" charity... too many people have attempted shenanigans like creating a not-for-profit to provide scholarships to kids that meet a bunch of criteria such that only their own offspring qualify. In addition, you'll need to file articles of incorporation, generate bylaws, assemble a board of directors, hold meetings, etc.

Really, it's easier, faster (and you'll learn more) to get involved in an existing non-profit.
posted by carmicha at 1:16 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


What exactly do you mean by "easier" here? Starting a non-profit isn't that easy.

Plus, there are a lot of existing ones who really _need_ some responsible financial help. Seriously.

Further, this is some potentially valuable experience you could pick up, which will not only teach you by doing but also be an important set of personal connections as you move on.

What do you care about? Maybe start there.

In the past, I'd heard that animal-focused non-profits were relatively healthy, financially, because people love animals and it has been relatively easy to raise money for them.

However, looking at your history here, it looks like you might be into something more political?

Think of it this way: you could make some real, solid, friends and allies this way. If you're going to put in the time anyway, don't waste it!
posted by amtho at 1:32 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Do not start a charity. Taproot Foundation is a good point of entry, as is United Way, to access charities that will benefit from you without needing to be either a trustee or a charity founder. Both are fraught roles and not for new people.
posted by parmanparman at 2:11 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


I think that the best way to start a nonprofit would be to start a local chapter of an existing organization that has chapters across the country. You'd still have to jump through the hoops though.

I'm the treasurer of a nonprofit group myself, and the work and skills needed to do what I do are minimal. It's true that no one ever wants to be the treasurer, and that someone volunteering to do so would be welcome, but I'm not sure if a group would give a complete stranger responsibility for the groups' money -- even though there are safeguards that prevent malfeasance, if someone were so inclined. You might have to spend time volunteering first, and then take on being treasurer.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 3:08 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


As others brought up, another option is to join a board and hold a role with financial responsibility. Faith communities are considered nonprofits, as are activist and other organizations that may have a spot for a volunteer. You could work as a pro bono consultant if "volunteer" doesn't meet the requirements of the certification.

This would honor the spirit of the requirement without the work (and cost, if only in lost time) of starting your own organization.
posted by ramenopres at 3:26 PM on August 10


I've worked with non-profits for 15 years, usually in or adjacent to finance, and I've never heard of this at all, let alone as a desirable or necessary thing to have, and I'm not the only one.

The easiest way to do this is for me to start my own non-profit
No, that would be a hugely expensive and time-consuming way to do it, even if this certification was worth it, which I am really not sure it is.
posted by ananci at 4:40 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


experience in a financial position within a nonprofit organization

Given what you're already doing, how does it not actually fit this description? Do you not already work for nonprofits?

That said, I used to work for small CPA firms, have never heard of this, and would not have given preferential treatment to referring people to bookkeepers based on this. The only thing I'd really care about when evaluating a bookkeeper or a non-tax accountant would be whether you're a ProAdvisor. Or--whatever the-thing-formerly-known-as-Peachtree might have as an equivalent. But mostly a ProAdvisor. It's the only thing that ever came with any correlation about people knowing anything, short of the CPA exam. (And the CPA exam was iffy; the amount on the test that's in any way relevant to small businesses and nonprofits is less than people think.)

The amount they're charging for this does not seem likely to be worth it unless someone else is paying for it. As a rule of thumb, even without this cost, I would not think much of a certification that doesn't require continuing education.
posted by Sequence at 3:17 AM on August 11


Yeah, I'm also on the board of a non-profit that would loooove a volunteer treasurer, or co-treasurer, though preferably for longer than a single year. This seems like a great opportunity to ramp up your knowledge of nonprofits doing work on things you care about. Not only good for your certification and good for the world, probably also great networking. There are tons of smallish nonprofits with volunteer boards who would probably love to get to know you. It doesn't even have to be geographically proximate nowadays.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:57 AM on August 12


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