Our citizens and our communities could really use some help these days. If you’re interested in starting a community organization to fulfill a need but have no idea where to begin, particularly in raising money, be aware that you’ll need structure before you can start applying for grants.

Pair With Other Non-Profits

Setting up a non-profit can take a lot of time and work, especially if you’re trying to get your 501(c)(3) status so you can start asking for money from donors or applying for grants. If there’s another non-profit with similar goals to yours, see if you can connect with these organizations and either join in their mission or find room under their umbrella. Working together will get your organization actually producing results sooner and can reduce the risk of donor fatigue or working at cross purposes to each other.

Find a Space

If your community organization is focused on supporting young parents with access to Baby Gear and Supplies, the marketing will be simple but the storage may be a challenge. Tour the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of those in need. You may find empty commercial buildings, or you might even find a church with some extra square footage.

Be willing to contribute something. For example, if you can get into an empty commercial building, offer to mow the grass or shovel snow for use of the building as a storage facility. Make sure the owner knows that the space will only be for storage and will not be open to the public, as this opening can cause insurance concerns for the business owner. Make sure to be ready to give them documentation so they can use the donation of the space as a charitable donation write-off on their taxes.

If you find church space, be respectful. Avoid too much foot traffic. When inviting recipients to come and pick up product, consider transporting the donated goods to a parking lot for easy access for all recipients. Many who need services and support have extra time and are willing to help, so discuss any offers of help with church leadership. Provide these leaders with promotional documents so they can share them with church members; you may actually get more donations when your pile of product becomes visible!

When You Can Expand

If your organization grows from donations to services, again, you will need a partner. For example, your Baby Gear and Supplies charity may eventually need a daycare. You might not have the space for it, but if your local church partner is ready to put the building to use 7 days a week, they may need to take out one or more church mortgages to meet code and access requirements.

Always do your best to engage recipients. No, they may not have money, but this doesn’t mean they can’t contribute. Consider setting up a toy library so gently used items can be shared. Put together a babysitting swap, or ask parents of older kids to mentor those with infants. We’re in this together.

The library idea can work in a variety of ways. If your organization is all about neighborhood pride, set up a hand tool library, or organize a mowing crew of young volunteers. Put an older volunteer in charge and see if you can set up classes on small motor maintenance. Too many skills in self-sufficiency are not being passed on.

If your organization is all about food security, ask some older volunteers to teach classes on frugal cooking or gardening to younger members in the group. Offer these classes to anyone associated with the church organization, and see if any members would be willing to teach, or to donate gear and food for a kitchen tool swap. For older members of the community who need help downsizing or just managing their household, assistance from a younger, stronger back could be the start of a fruitful friendship.

The money will always be a challenge. You may have to contract with a grant writer to bring in funds for special projects. However, many who want to help really have no idea what to do or how to contribute. By bringing people together, both those with financial means and those without can teach, learn, and grow together.