“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”Margaret Mead
So when you see or read about a particular social, environmental, or humanitarian cause does it stir something in you? Whatever it may be, climate change, the refugee crisis, conservation of our forests, ocean plastics, education, child abuse, whatever it may be… Perhaps you feel a sense of empathy for those suffering? Perhaps you feel a sense of frustration that more isn’t being done? Perhaps you feel that little voice in the back of your head saying ‘if only I could do more?’, and while you’re longing to, you’re not sure how?
Perhaps you’re also a little fed-up with your current job or career and yearn for something more fulfilling and rewarding? Something where your actions have a direct and meaningful impact rather than just being another small cog in a big machine?
So has the thought of one day starting your own charity, nonprofit or social enterprise been simmering away on the back-burner of your mind? Perhaps you feel it isn’t the right time now? Or you need to wait until you can get the funding? Or until you come up with a big idea? Or until you pluck up the courage? Or until circumstances permit you to take the first steps? Or maybe you have doubts because you’re not sure how you’ll cover your own financial needs? Or perhaps you don’t feel ready to take on that level of responsibility?
I’m here to tell you that all the uncertainty, hesitation, or worry predominantly stems from a lack of understanding. A lack of understanding that leads to a lack of knowledge, skill, character and resources.
Most people don’t really know where to start, or how to start in the best way when it comes to developing that knowledge and skill. So they hold off. Often too because many people feel like it will be something they’ll embark upon in several years’ time, they don’t take much action now, if any at all. They wait, and that waiting sees time fly by and their aspirations begin to fade.
I’m here to tell you that you can absolutely make a success of it if you do it in the right way, and if you take the right steps upfront, even years in advance, starting now! Don’t put off your aspirations! Make a start, but make a start in a wise, well-founded way. Not in some haphazard way.
So I’m going to walk you through the Seven Phase Process for launching and growing a charity, nonprofit or social enterprise. This will give you a taste of what you need to know, but our new eBook and online course will help you dive into much greater depths.
To explain it all in the best way, we’ll draw upon a fitting analogy of the phases of growth of a tree. There is so much we can learn from nature, and the more you look at it, the more you recognise how ‘unnatural’ we go about doing things.
If you want to succeed in a sustainable way and ensure your endeavours stand the test of time, the ‘conventional’ way isn’t how you go about it. ‘Convention’ is what leads to 95% of all organisations failing in the first five years. When you’ve poured your heart and soul into what you do – and even more importantly when the wellbeing of our fellow human beings and mother nature is at stake – I certainly don’t want you to end up as one of those 95 per cent.
So we’ll go through Seven Phases: 1) The Sowing Phase – Personal Preparation, 2) The Seeding Phase – Building Online Influence, 3) The Sapling Phase – Building Offline Influence, 4) The Budding Phase – Sustainable Service Benchmark, 5) The Fruiting Phase – Partnership Development, 6) The Maturing Phase – Leadership Development, 7) The Reforesting Phase – Project Replication.
Each part of the tree represents a different component of what you need to build. The roots present your personal development as a person. The trunk represents your leadership capacity. The branches represent your network, your circle of influence and key connections with others. The leaves represent the entrepreneurial systems and processes. The fruits literally represent the fruits of your labour, the impact you make. Finally, the environment around the tree represents the wider world and everything going on out there that influences your organisation.
Ready to explore these Seven phases? Let’s do it!
How to Start a Charity or Nonprofit
Phase 1 – Sowing – Personal Preparation
Most people never start with this phase; they jump straight into trying to create a product or service prototype, or get the website and business cards. This stage is about preparing you. You won’t see much change in your world externally on the outside yet, but you’re building a crucial foundation on which your entire future rests. It’s the little seed beneath the surface. You won’t see anything above ground, but it’s beginning to sprout roots. Just like you at this stage.
Gandhi’s famous quote couldn’t be more apt here: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’. When it comes to the root cause of change, it all boils down not to what we do, but who we are.
So this phase is about nurturing the vision for your life and the difference you want to make. Here you’ll build a bright, compelling and clear vision and hone your visualisation skills.
In this phase you’ll explore building a new set of upbuilding habits and honing your ability to be focused and disciplined to achieve more.
You’ll also build your understanding of what is in your subconscious mind that gets in your way, the limiting mental and emotional habits that hold you back.
Phase 2 – Seedling – Online Influence
Here the little seed begins to sprout out above ground and form its first little shoots and leaves. This represents you beginning to get out there in the world. But not as most do, of jumping into Phase 4, trying to push the product or service with little to no preparation, knowledge, understanding, support or existing network.
This phase is predominately about beginning to build your circle of influence. It’s about building more connections, and deepening the level of connection with other people out there in the world who also care about the same issues. During this phase you’ll also be building a strong foundation of knowledge about the causes you care about and beginning to identify the nature of the problem you hope to tackle.
At this stage you likely won’t have much time on your hands. So it’s key to do something that only requires a little time that you can squeeze in between everything else in your life. As you study more about the difference you want to make, share what you learn. You could start a blog, Youtube channel, a social media account or group. This will allow you to begin attracting followers who also care about the same cause.
Phase 3 – Sapping – Offline Influence
The little tree is getting a bit bigger. It has grown taller, has more branches and leaves and has grown deeper roots. You’ve built stronger connections with people, you’ve got a wider understanding of the environment you wish to impact and your strength of character has been enhanced.
We’ve often asked people, ‘What’s the most important resource of any organisation?’ Do you know what most people’s answer is to this question? Most people say ‘Money’… But nope, that’s wrong! It certainly isn’t money.
The most important resource is people and the strength of relationship and trust you have with those people. If you have enough of the right depth of relationship, with enough of the right people, you will need a significantly less amount of money to do what you need to do. But more importantly, it is with more of the right people that you’ll be able to generate more of the money your project needs.
So this phase, naturally follows on from the online influence building of Phase 2, and gives you the learning incubator to build your experience in building community, in developing your leadership skills. It will be your responsibility to be able to unite people when times are tough, to navigate through conflict in the organisation.
This phase gives you the chance to develop skills in doing that when any mistakes won’t have a costly consequence on the future of your organisation, or importantly on the lives of the people your organisation will impact!
So what is the main means of building your offline circle of influence? Build a mastermind group! Bring people together around a common cause, every week, because they’re all passionate about making a difference and all want to develop. You guide them and give them something to want to come back to each week.
The most important skill of anyone at the helm of an organisation, no matter how big or small it is, is their ability to unite people and to inspire and empower them to perform at the natural best because they want to. This phase is where you begin to hone your leadership skills.
The role of this mastermind group is also to help you understand even more about the problem you wish to solve and the possible solutions to it. Together you’ll all be brainstorming, masterminding and researching about the problem – what worked, what didn’t and what needs to be done differently.
Phase 4 – Buddying – Sustainable Service Benchmark
In this phase the tree is developing to a stage where it begins to produce its first buds which turn into flowers so it can pollinate to begin growing its first fruits.
It’s the stage of actually delivering your first product or service and then refining it and scaling it to a level where you are generating a sufficient level of income for yourself so that you can take the leap out of employment and work on this baby of yours full-time.
This is a pretty substantial phase. As mentioned, most people try and leap straight into this phase and because they are wholly unprepared, their efforts flop at the first hurdle. They don’t last long and give up demoralised, often with broken relationships and a wrecked bank account.
95 per cent of all organisations launched end up failing within the first five years. On the other hand, you will have established an awesome foundation through the previous three phases.
The first step here is to build a new mastermind group, one that’s now with people who all want to be involved in launching a nonprofit, charity, or social enterprise. With you all building your own organisations simultaneously, you’ll be able to help each other out so much!
Next you want to identify which ‘business model’ or as we call it ‘Impact Model’ is most suited to you being able to have the biggest impact you can. What do we mean by ‘Impact Model’? Ultimately it is the means through which you exchange value and deliver your product or service to your target recipient and how you generate your income.
I want to make it clear at this point, when most people think of an organisation that does some kind of social, environmental or humanitarian good, they think of a ‘charity’ model. This is basically where you ask for donations from one or more groups of people in order to fund giving your product or service to a different group of people.
While this model is needed in some cases, it certainly isn’t the best in many cases. Mohammad Yunus, the father of microfinancing, and founder of the Grameen Bank, provides micro-loans to poor people in Bangladesh helping to lift them out of poverty and empowers women to earn for their families.
He established a business model that works very well, even with some of the poorest people in the world. He calls it ‘Social Business’. I’m not going to go into it in much depth here (we expand upon it in our ‘How to Start a Nonprofit or Charity’ eBook). But ultimately he has demonstrated other ‘Impact Models’ that actually works better if you sell your product and service, even to people in poverty. This is not to make a profit, but to be sustainable. Any income generated here is pumped back into the community.
‘Buy-one-give-one’ is another model for example, where you sell a product or service to one group of people and the funds generated enables you to give another (or similar) product or service to those in need. Like One Water for example. They sell bottled water to those in the western world who would purchase it anyway, and use the income to fund water projects in developing countries.
At this stage it is really important to make sure you’re learning about Organisational Fundamentals – critical snippets of knowledge to ensure you choose the best Impact Model and to learn about how to run an organisation in the best way.
Next you want to create your Minimum Viable Product/Service (MVP). As outlined by Eric Ries in his book, The Lean Startup, the MVP is basically the simplest form or your product or service that you can create that is good enough to begin getting out there. Why? So you can learn through the experience of using it, not just hypothesising about what will work and what won’t, but by running a trial to find out for sure.
Once you’ve trialed it several times in different circumstances, you’ll have learned a lot to tweak and refine your product or service, or indeed ‘pivot’ it, i.e. change it up significantly because you’ve learned it wasn’t working.
Then once you’ve got something that you know is viable, your next step is to scale it up so that you’re generating enough income to sustain yourself financially. By ‘scale it up’, we mean being able to deliver more of that product or service. In order to do that you’ll need two new components to your organisation.
The first new component is the right systems and processes. To put it simply, these are well thought out procedures about how you do things so that you do them more efficiently. By taking less time, money and effort you can deliver more with the same or less resources needed than before. Secondly, ‘systems’ are things that do some of the work for you, rather than an actual human being having to do it manually, like online software, or physical machinery.
The second key component at this stage to scale up in order to leave employment is partnerships with other organisations. It is through these organisations you’ll be able to generate more opportunities to deliver your product and service.
Phase 5 – Fruiting – Partnership Development
Now the tree develops wider-reaching branches, which enables more and more leaves to take in the sunlight. This in turn helps the tree to grow a sturdier trunk and develop a deeper root system. Just like you and the organisation. To grow into a mighty tree, you need to establish many strong branches, just as in order for your organisation to grow in order to make a mighty impact, you need to establish many strong partnerships.
In the previous phase you would have developed your product or service to a place where you can begin scaling it and the best way to do that is through strategic partnerships. So seek out organisations that serve a similar person that you’re trying to reach. Get resourceful in terms of what you can do to genuinely help that other organisation achieve their goals through a collaboration.
Get creative in terms of how you approach them to grab their attention – just email blasts and LinkedIn messages aren’t going to make you stand out from the crowd nowadays. Once you’ve opened the door, start small, start with a small-scale trial project while you get familiar working with each other to help you build trust step-by-step.
What is so crucial here and is worth reiterating, is that you must genuinely seek out ways to help that other organisation achieve their goals or solve their challenges. Make sure you’re adding value to them that is genuinely helping them out. When people seek out building partnerships, too often it really isn’t about the other organisation. It’s about getting what they want, masked in a cloak of deception. In the revolutionary leadership book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the author Stephen Covey addresses this with his Habit 4 – Think Win-Win or No Deal. You must check it out.
Phase 6 – Maturing – Leadership Development
One of the most limiting and debilitating mistakes that so many founders make is that they render the organisation too dependent upon them. They remain too hands-on at the coalface of the organisation and so never actually assume their proper role of leader and so never end up developing other people to be able to take over from them.
This results in countless situations where the founder started the organisation doing something they were passionate about, but end up a complete slave to it, saping the life from them and never able to do anything else in their lives. If you remain in the position of always doing all the day-to-day doings within the organisation, you’re massively stunting the growth of the organisation and therefore the difference you’re able to make in the lives of those who need what you do!
So the indisputable key here is to develop the right leadership so that the organisation can run without you having to call all the shots. This can be a hard move for many people to make because they’re not able to let go of direct control. But that’s simply because they’ve not taken the right steps to develop the leadership within the organisation.
There are two fundamental branches at this stage. The first branch ensures you’re developing people in the organisation to be the next leaders by building the right company culture. That culture initially stems from you, from who you are as a person and the values and morals that you hold yourself to. That quite naturally influences the decisions that are made in growing the organisation and how you lead others and hold them accountable to the organisational values.
The second fundamental branch of your leadership role at this stage is to ensure you’ve developed the right systems and processes so that the whole thing can run without you needing to be at the helm every day. This is what will empower you to take steps to go on and take the organisation to a whole new level, or potentially a new direction in the difference you make.
Phase 7 – Reforesting – Project Replication
Now the mighty tree is big enough and mature enough to produce an abundance of fruits that themselves are mature enough to begin to form as little seedlings when they fall to the ground. So this first tree you’ve grown now begins growing other trees around it. This is where you want to get to if you want to make a significant impact in the issue you care about.
Now you’ve got one organisation running well without you needing to be there all the time, you’ve opened yourself up to a whole new world of possibilities. At this stage it’s great to step back from your life a bit. By this time you’ll be older and wiser, your outlook on life will have changed and what you deem important in your life will have changed. So firstly re-explore where you’d like to take your life next – move to a different country, travel, start a family… You want to make sure your next moves help you build the life you want too.
Next take time to explore where you’d like to make a bigger impact. Perhaps you’d like to continue on the same issue you’ve already devoted yourself to. Perhaps you’d like to influence other issues that have a knock-on effect on the cause you care about. Perhaps the world has changed along with your priorities and would love to do something completely different. Various aspects of business practices can really help you at this stage. Predominantly that of franchising, of creating one organisation that works and then replicating it in a different location, different industry or for a different cause. So this is when it really begins to get exciting!
There you go! That is a snapshot of the journey you need to go through in order to grow an organisation that can make a meaningful difference in your life and in the causes you most care about. The journey isn’t easy, but if you do it in the right way, it will be the most fulfilling and rewarding thing you could ever do and you’ll learn to value the lows as much as the highs.
While I hope this has helped to inspire and build your belief and enthusiasm to want to embark upon that journey, it is imperative you prepare yourself and grow your knowledge and understanding before taking the first steps. Even if you don’t anticipate launching something for years to come, there is so much that can be done now to ensure your success.
So we build upon this article in much more depth in our new eBook – How to Start a Charity or Nonprofit. The first one hundred we’re offering at a reduced price of £4.85. When you purchase it you’ll also fund one tree to be planted in the Amazon Rainforest through one of our partners One Tree Planted. In addition, you’ll receive a 1-hour Pathfinder Coaching Session worth £50 to point you in the right direction of the next steps you personally need to take to begin turning it all into a reality.
Additionally, if you want to go one step further in building your knowledge and skills now, check out our online course where we’ll walk you through every step and a real person, a Supporter will guide you every step of the way.