Advice for starting a non-profit
February 27, 2006 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Things to know about starting a technology based non-profit catering to other non-profits, individuals and struggling small businesses in Ontario, Canada

I'm looking to hear about people's general experiences starting a non-profit organization. What kinds of obstacles did you encounter in the beginning? Overall, was it worth it? How much of your time/money did it take to get it off the ground? Any other advice is welcome. Extra points if you have any specific advice/warnings related to running one in Ontario.

Thank you!
posted by saraswati to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know nothing about running a non-profit, technology-based or otherwise, but I like the idea, and am a bit of an open-source geek. If you later need info about what kind of software is out there, but don't want to make an AskMe post about it, feel free to email me.
posted by gsteff at 8:05 PM on February 27, 2006

Best answer: I'm the GM of a NFP in Ontario. First off, I can't believe this knowledge in my head might actually be useful.

I'm going to assume that you are incorporating provincially, and give some links accordingly. I'm also assuming it's not going to be a charity or a co-op (although some of the links will give information on charitable status).

Start up costs: It's under $200 to incorporate, and there is a name search you need to do too, not sure how much that costs. There will be more time than money up front as you develop your objects, mission, vision, and bylaws. You can cut down the time if you have access to legal assistance (especially for the objects/incorporation and bylaws, but if you're paying for this it may get pricey).

Not-for-profit Incorporator's Handbook (from the Attorney General's site, amazingly enough)
Business Ontario has all the forms and information on what needs to be filed yearly.
Although this is a co-op specific resource, this section on the 7 steps to forming a co-op is actually a pretty good overview on the way to form any organization, but especially a community focussed one.

One big piece of advice I would give is around the vision and starting out. As a NFP, you will be developing a community or socially based mission and mandate that will guide all that you do. These will form your objects and indicate what your main purpose as an organization is and what you will be spending your funding and efforts on. It's important to spend some time developing these statements. Although they can be 'just words', this can be a key stage in staring out right. Take the time to articulate the vision your organization has, the mission that you have to help achieve that vision, and the values that you have as a group that dictate how you operate. Also spend some time developing goals and objectives - how will you meet your mission? what activities will help us carry out our mission and achieve the vision? This may seem like navel gazing starting out, but it will certainly save you grief in the long run as you begin strategic and operational planning in earnest. If you have questions about this stuff, feel free to email me, I can go into more details about this, but realize this is turning into a novel and it may not be useful after all. :)

One thing that I often see is how directors and volunteers that come from the traditional business sector often have difficulty understanding and embracing the NFP mentality - having this stuff articulated helps to get a diverse group of people to understand and get behind your cause.

Be prepared to spend some time as a working Board, where you are entirely volunteer driven. Huge amount of time and energy. As you grow and look at hiring staff people, be ready for some storming as roles shift.

If you are going to be one of the formers and you are going to be sitting on the Board, be aware of conflict of interest guidelines around Directors getting paid for the work they do. If you are on the Board of NFP, you don't get paid - I haven't seen many people or organizations that approve of allowing Directors to accept paid contracts while they're sitting on the Board. I'm speaking from experience here - don't allow it, it's a mess, and it damages your credibility big time.

Sorry for the length, hope this is helpful, even a little.
posted by Cyrie at 8:26 PM on February 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It helps a ton, Cyrie. Thanks so much

gsteff, I'm a bit of an open source geek myself but I'll keep you in mind if I have any questions. Thanks
posted by saraswati at 8:38 PM on February 27, 2006

You may want to talk to the people at TechSoup and NetSquared, who do similar work in San Francisco.
posted by cali at 9:50 PM on February 27, 2006

You may already be aware of them, but Web Networks is a non-profit web hosting company that hosts other non-profits. They're based in Toronto, and they've been around a while. I don't know if they overlap with what you have in mind, but it's good to know what already exists in the space. It's also possible they could be a source of advice.
posted by teg at 10:56 PM on February 27, 2006

A great nation-wide (US) non-profit organization that provides IT services to non-profits is npower. They have several regional offices (the one in Philadelphia is run by a fantastic woman). They may be willing to help you, or you may want to inquire about joining their network!
posted by sgarst at 11:45 AM on February 28, 2006

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