Planning Your Nonprofit Organization: A Primer on Writing a Nonprofit Business Plan

Nonprofit Business Plan TemplateIn the corporate jungle, the nonprofit is a very different animal. From its purpose and goals to its bottom line, a nonprofit organization operates in a unique manner, one that is essential to understanding, for successful entry into that specific market niche. Much of the nonprofit business plan is focused on tax issues and compliance (rather than sales and profitability), with such nuances requiring thoughtful and careful planning.

If you are contemplating the formation of a nonprofit entity, research is your best friend, followed by the crafting of a careful business plan — one that clearly states organizational direction. Is forming a nonprofit in your future? Consider the following:


Various types of companies and businesses usually form nonprofits, from educational organizations to religious entities to charities.


Many potential Nonprofits apply for, and qualify for, 501(c)(3) status.


The primary benefits to nonprofit classification are, 1) limited liability for certain management team members, and 2) assorted tax breaks.

Additional Benefits

Qualifying 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations can take advantage of various benefits afforded them. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Federal income tax exemption
  • Public and private grant eligibility
  • Tax-deductible donations
  • Reduced rate postage

Points to Consider

The most obvious difference in designing a nonprofit business plan over a traditional business plan is that the focus is not profit-centric. From Business 101 onward, every business plan was designed to elucidate the path to profitability as the beginning and ending goal. Not so with a nonprofit, which centers almost exclusively on organizational purpose.

A nonprofit’s business plan also has a significantly different target audience — the IRS — with equally different concerns and prerequisites. In order to satisfy the parameters for nonprofit incorporation, it is vital to work with a knowledgeable partner/team in creating a realistic business plan that will provide the best chance for nonprofit acceptance.

As forming a nonprofit is such a specialized undertaking, deferring to a seasoned guide on the developmental steps is imperative to one’s success. A wealth of topics on nonprofit activities, strategies, etc. can be found here:

In researching the nonprofit model, it is essential to design a concise business plan. The internet provides a wealth of valuable resources to offer a number of nonprofit business plan templates to use as reference points. Several good examples can be found here:


The fundamental differences in nonprofit business plans over traditional business plans are numerous, and require careful consideration and review. When dealing with the Federal Government, every “i” must be dotted and “t” must be crossed, then checked and rechecked for conformity to governmental guidelines. Though the prospect of forming a nonprofit may seem initially daunting, the process is not nearly as intimidating as it appears. Armed with the right information, operational strategy, and keen attention to administrative detail, you can establish a nonprofit with minimal problems.


Forming a Nonprofit Organization: Set the Stage with a Collaborative Marketing Strategy

Forming a Nonprofit Organization: Set the Stage with a Collaborative Marketing StrategyIf you’re looking to launch a nonprofit startup venture, your pre-planning must be considerably more varied than the thought that goes into launching a traditional for-profit endeavor. Nonprofits are unique entities and embody ideals wholly different than their for-profit brethren.

As you formulate a business model and marketing strategy, give careful consideration to the nuances that make your nonprofit socially relevant, and subsequently attractive to potential supporters and collaborative partners. Consider the following tips for advancing your nonprofit and giving it the grassroots support it needs to flourish.

What Sets Your Nonprofit Apart From Others?

The majority of nonprofit ventures are designed to promote or advance a stated cause. Thus, it is vital for you to spread your message, and stimulate interest from outside. Maintain a clear and focused direction, and be prepared to articulate what makes your nonprofit special, how it is beneficial to the local or global community, what it will specifically impact, and why people should support your efforts.

Putting Tech and Social Media to Work for Your Nonprofit

Use the power of social media to promote your message, and get people talking. Many nonprofit startups traditionally relied on town hall type gatherings to spread the word one geographic region at a time. Now, technology has supplanted the barnstorming model with instant information transmission via Twitter, etc. Be a social media maven … build a contact list, develop a marketing strategy, and create a dynamic message for your tech-savvy audience to receive and pass along on your behalf. Depending on your projected reach, you may even incorporate live events, podcasts, etc. into your social media bag of tricks.

Look for Like-Minded Souls… And Have a Bit of Fun Doing It!

Nonprofits don’t need to be stodgy and serious, and often succeed with a bit of humor and good cheer. Look for potential clients who share your vision, and are interested in joining you in positive marketing. Look at the Ice Bucket Challenge as an example. Once the concept took root, everyone wanted to get involved — as either participants and/or sponsors. The good will that spread in the name of an important cause was contagious, and showed definitively how willing people are to get involved with something that generates so much positive energy and awareness.

Balance Business Basics with Creativity

Be creative, think beyond the obvious, but don’t neglect the most basic ideas. Consider for a moment the simplicity of “cause bracelets” — generic rubber strips, subtly empowering wearers by way of a variety of color-coded interests. From AIDS to cancer to domestic violence, the bracelets represent numerous causes through collaborative support at its finest. Does it get any more user-friendly? Can the wearers spread their messages any more exponentially? The little rubber bracelet idea was a stroke of brilliance rooted in utilitarianism and awareness. Genius. Pure, unadulterated genius.

Granted, a fair dose of luck must be present for a nonprofit marketing idea to hook on with the masses, but history shows that luck can happen when an entrepreneur least expects it. Take your nonprofit idea and analyze it … is there a simple way to promote it, perhaps with a symbolic item or catch phrase? Think of collaborative marketing initiatives that started small and became proverbial forest fires, spreading to the Nth degree. If you have a sound idea or cause for your nonprofit venture, half the battle is won. Now it’s time to see how you can attract people, and get the public to become your best marketing team.



The ABCs of a Purpose Driven Name

Tips nonprofitsMany not for profit organizations – from trade associations to 501c3 groups — use an acronym in place of the group’s full name in collateral, correspondence and conversation. Unless the group is the U.N., however, organizations may be doing themselves a disservice by relying too extensively on nomenclature that’s more alphabet soup than purpose-driven.

In a society that communicates by text messages and 140 character tweets, abbreviations are all the rage. When it comes to conveying what your organization stands for, brevity is not necessarily better. In addition to generating potential confusion, this form of short hand means your organization is missing an opportunity to communicate its purpose.

Here’s just one example. If you Google associations with the initials AAP the search will return pages and pages of listings — American Association of, American Academy of…just pick a profession that begins with the letter “p” — pediatrician, publisher, physician, paralegal, psychologist, psychiatrist…you get the idea.
As a marketing communications professional, I love that acronyms fit more easily into a tweet or a website address. Yet I know that it can take substantial time, effort and money for a charity, professional society or trade association to become readily recognizable to outsiders by its acronym. Not every organization has the resources or history of a group such as ASPCA or AAA.

This is not to suggest, however, that acronyms should never be used. When an organization, through its branding strategy, can create a direct and meaningful link between the acronym and the organization’s purpose, the results can be powerful. One such example is CARE. Founded in 1945 as the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe, the organization’s purpose was to send parcels of food to Europe after WWII. While its role has evolved into fighting global poverty and the letters C-A-R-E now stand for Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, the name CARE still embodies the organization’s humanitarian mission and is recognized around the world.

As an organization considers its branding strategy, groups that want their names to be associated with a specific purpose may do themselves a disservice through over-utilization of their acronym. In turn, we may do other individuals and organizations a disservice by taking the shortcut when speaking or writing about them. One of Dale Carnegie’s Golden Rules is: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Convey your organization’s name with clarity and conviction so that others might do the same.

*Kellen Communications is a full service public relations, public affairs and digital agency specializing in work for not for profit organizations including charities, trade associations and professional societies.

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