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Start a Community-Focused Non-Profit

What is it? A non-profit is, at its most basic, an organization that exists to “benefit the broad public interest”, not just the interests of its members, board, or staff.  Nonprofits receive tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  The types of nonprofit organizations that exist are wide ranging.  A group of local residents that has formed to address an issue or problem may sometimes benefit from formalizing their group as a nonprofit organization.  While it is important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of such a move, nonprofit organization status can help a group broaden impact, build capacity and attract financial resources.  Nonprofit organizations create by-laws (a legal document, basically a set of rules for how the organization will conduct itself), establish a board of directors (people who govern the overall organization by providing strategic and financial oversight – different from the staff who do the day-to-day work), and determine the best structures and plans of action for carrying out their public mission.  That mission may range from serving a specific neighborhood, to promoting youth development, to housing rehabilitation, and more.  (Source: Independent Sector).

How has it been used? In the late 1980’s, the Eastern Shore of Virginia was experiencing land use pressures.  In response to resident concerns, citizens of the area created a non-profit, Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore.  The initial focus was environmental and land-use issues.  Soon, the organization discovered that many of these concerns were also connected to issues of race, ethnicity, and education.  The non-profit expanded its focus to include programming and projects aimed at strengthening education and appreciating diversity. The organization produces a monthly newsletter that is both a promotional and educational tool.  (Source: Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore)

Further Reading

National Council of Nonprofits

Nonprofit Startup Resources by State – Foundation Center

Nonprofit Resource Center