Non-profit organizations, or NPOs, make a huge contribution every year to all sorts of public welfare causes, including green initiatives. As with any enterprise, to make sure you’re on track to achieve your aims, it’s vital to go into it with a well defined mission, clear operating plan and a solid understanding of how NPOs work. Don’t forget to check that your mission will qualify your organization for non-profit status, and it’s worth considering whether your goals might be better served by a different business structure.
Be prepared for a lot of hard work in the start-up phase. Environmental idealism may spur you on, but passion is only part of the battle. Getting NPO status involves a lot of preparation and paperwork and a bunch of practical business skills. A good first step is to see how you fit into the map of existing NPOs. Will you be overlapping with existing organizations? If so, perhaps you could work under their auspices, rather than setting up separately. If you’re going to go ahead as a distinct entity, then your next step is a detailed, carefully considered business plan.
NPOs are just like businesses, except that the profits go back into the organization to further your mission. You will need an executive summary, outlining your goals, the staffing and executive structures and scope. If you will be dealing in products and services, you need a clear outline of what these are and what the market is – don’t skimp on doing your market research. You need to be clear on why your product or service is needed, who needs it and why.
Effective functioning is the key to success. Figure out a clear set of strategies for delivery from the start. Who will do what, when and where? How will responsibilities be allocated and accountability ensured? Who will make the strategic decisions? If you’re new to the NPO world, don’t hesitate to seek and take advice. Compile a detailed marketing, advertising and PR strategy. Communication is the name of the game, and it can be hard work and costly if you get it wrong.
Finally, make sure you’ve got a handle on the nuts and bolts of the operation, from premises and equipment to salaries and operating budgets. On the financials front, prepare a specific funding document dealing with the start-up expenses, as opposed to ongoing running costs. Remember that NPOs do make profits – they absolutely have to, in order to cover their operating expenses. It’s how the profits are deployed that count, and effective profit management is crucial to success. Good accounting systems (and people to oversee them) are absolutely key.
If you can get through all the research, attention to detail and prep work, you’re on your way to making an environmental difference by actively promoting the eco causes close to your heart. With intensive focus, plus the energy and savvy required, your non-profit organization can become not just a reality but an active player in the interests of a green planet.