The First Year of Your Nonprofit

Top Priorities For The First Year Of Your Nonprofit

The first year of a nonprofit's existence is often the most challenging. Still, with a clear focus on these priorities, you can lay a strong foundation for your organization's future success. Be patient, persistent, and flexible in your approach, and always keep your nonprofit's mission at the heart of what you do. Here are some key priorities to keep on top of mind. 

1. Culture of Clear Communication:

One of the most critical priorities is establishing solid and consistent internal and external communication mechanisms. Clarity, frequency, and transparency are crucial elements to foster trust, enable cooperation, and ensure everyone is on the same page about the organization's mission, vision, and goals.

2. Building a Strong Brand:

A robust, relatable, and recognizable brand is essential for any organization, particularly for nonprofits, where the competition for attention and donations is fierce. The brand should represent the organization's values, goals, and the difference it seeks to make. Utilize stories, visuals, and personal experiences to bring your brand to life and make it more resonant with your audience.

3. Efficient Operations:

Developing a robust operational plan should be a top priority. Ensure you have strategies for managing finances, complying with legal requirements, tracking progress, managing resources, and planning projects. Consider using technology to help automate and streamline processes to maximize efficiency.

4. Staffing Strategy and Position Descriptions:

Your team is your most valuable resource. A strategic staffing plan should align with your mission and budget. Position descriptions must be clear, delineating responsibilities, duty hours, required skills, and performance metrics. They will help potential staff understand their roles and how they contribute to the bigger picture.

5. Fundraising:

Fundraising is the lifeblood of any nonprofit. A solid fundraising strategy should involve a diversified portfolio of potential revenue streams. Also, remember the importance of creating solid relationships with donors and providing them with regular updates about how their money is making an impact.

6. Building an Effective Board:

Your board can be a source of guidance, governance, and resources. Carefully select board members aligned with your cause, have diverse skills, and are ready to commit to your nonprofit’s mission. Provide regular, accurate updates about the organization's progress, and engage them in strategic decisions.

7. Providing Clear Direction to Staff:

Ensure your staff is aligned with your organization's mission and vision. Clear, ongoing communication about organizational goals, their roles in achieving those objectives, and regular feedback about their performance are vital to keeping your team motivated and engaged.

8. Leveraging Fractional Talent:

Always remember the potential of fractional (part-time or contract) talent. Build an arsenal of talent and use them when you need them. This strategy allows you to access a range of skills and experience that you might only afford part-time, and it also offers flexibility to adapt as your organization grows and changes. This talent can be leveraged in grant writing, marketing, strategic planning, and more. A critical aspect of staffing strategy for nonprofits is knowing when to hire independent contractors (1099s). These professionals can be a cost-effective way to strategically address shortfalls, increase agility, or tackle short-term issues.  This is especially valuable when specialized expertise is needed and not inherently part of your organization. Be sure to understand the legal requirements for 1099 workers, such as not controlling how they perform their work, as misclassification can lead to penalties. 

9. Staffing Strategy - Knowing When to Let Go: 

While having a committed and capable team is essential, it's equally crucial to acknowledge when someone is not a good fit for your organization. Red flags could include a misalignment with the organization's culture, consistent underperformance, or an inability to work constructively with the team. Regular performance reviews and transparent, compassionate communication are crucial to addressing these issues promptly. Remember, every decision should be in service to your mission, including staffing decisions. 

10. Staying on Top of Federal and State Requirements:

You must stay on top of all federal and state requirements as a nonprofit. Given the plethora of regulations, this can be daunting, so having a dedicated person or team member responsible for compliance is beneficial. Be aware of the critical requirements like the annual filing of Form 990 with the IRS, maintaining your tax-exempt status, and meeting state-specific regulations.

11. Importance of a Core Event/Filing Calendar:

A core event/filing calendar can help you stay organized and on track. This tool should include key dates such as grant application deadlines, reporting requirements, board meetings, fundraising events, employee performance reviews, and other crucial activities. Assign responsibility for maintaining and updating this calendar to ensure everyone is informed about important dates.

You can confidently navigate the turbulent first year and beyond by integrating these elements into your operations. Remember, leading a nonprofit is complex and challenging, but your impact on your community and the cause you serve is unparalleled.