Every organization needs to start somewhere—and operating on a $0 budget shouldn't stop you. Below, we explain how to start a nonprofit organization with no money, and the tools you'll need to get off the ground. You'll learn how to:
💼 Work with an attorney on a pro bono basis
💛 Assemble a team of passionate volunteers
🔨 Get clever with your marketing tools
⭐️ Select a free website building platform
🎉 Get creative when it comes to fundraising events
5 tips on how to start a nonprofit organization with no money
No funding? No problem. With a little creativity, you can support a great cause on little to no budget. We've got five strategies on how to launch a nonprofit on a $0 budget, from filing as a tax-exempt organization to launching your website.
1. Work with an attorney on a pro bono basis
When you start a nonprofit, you'll need to file for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). Not only does this spare your organization from the financial burden of paying state, federal, and even property taxes, but it ensures all donations are tax deductible for supporters.
Sorting through these IRS forms can be incredibly daunting, particularly for a startup nonprofit. You'll need to file for an EIN (employer identification number), open a bank account, submit your articles of incorporation to your secretary of state, and even draft up your nonprofit bylaws. To help make this process more manageable, partner with an attorney well-versed in filing in federal and state tax laws for charitable organizations.
Don't think you can afford an attorney? Think again. Many states have a mandatory pro bono requirement under their state bar association (e.g., New York sets the minimum at 50 hours). Reach out to several firms in your community to see if an attorney can offer legal advice on a pro bono basis.
Note: Filing for federal tax-exempt status is the one area that does require some funds, as you must submit a filing fee with your application. Form 1023-EZ (which is created for organizations for less than $50,000 in gross receipts) has an application fee of $275.
2. Assemble a team of passionate volunteers
As a nonprofit organization that's just getting off the ground, you might not have the budget to hire full-time staff, board members, or an executive director. In fact, for both for-profit businesses and charitable organizations alike, payroll is often the heaviest expense—accounting for up to 50% of the operating budget.
According to research conducted by ZipSprout, roughly 21% of public charities have an operating budget of less than $50,000—or roughly the salary of one full-time employee. Therefore, your new nonprofit probably won’t have wiggle room to hire employees—but you’ll still need as much help as you can get.
Fortunately, you can assemble a passionate team of loyal volunteers to help accomplish your organization's mission. Reach out to your most loyal supporters, requesting an extra set of hands at upcoming fundraising events, run your social media accounts, or donate supplies. You can also reach out to local university professors to see if they would offer course credit to students in exchange for interning for your organization. (Pro tip: To track volunteer contact information and correspondence, use a fundraising platform—like Givebutter—that comes with a free built-in CRM system.)
3. Get clever with your marketing tools
As a nonprofit startup, you need to get the word out about your cause. Fortunately, there are plenty of free options when it comes to marketing.
Before you launch your marketing strategy, set aside time to research your target audience to see which channels are most likely to get you the most traffic. Select 1-3 channels (such as Instagram, Twitter, and email marketing) to attract new donors.
There are plenty of platforms and tools that offer free plans—particularly for nonprofits. Social media channels are free to use, and tools like Planoly, Buffer, and Monday offer free plans for social media scheduling. Plus, scheduling posts in advance will help you save time overall—which can help spare time and resources within a grassroots marketing department.
When launching an email marketing strategy, select a platform that 1) comes with a free plan and 2) integrates with your fundraising platform. Givebutter's built-in marketing automation platform, Engage, allows you to send email, video, and SMS campaigns to help deepen connections with your audience. You can easily build automation workflows, segment your list, and convert potential donors into recurring supporters.
4. Select a free website building platform
Every nonprofit corporation needs a website to help amplify a message. A website serves as a place to educate potential donors, update recurring supporters on future fundraising events, and collect first-time and recurring donations.
Unfortunately, creating a website almost always comes with startup costs attached. A domain will cost a minimum of $15 per year, plus $20-$40 for security, and another $25+ for an SSL certificate. If you purchase a template through Wordpress, you should estimate spending a one-time fee of $40-$300+, while drag-and-drop website builders like Wix and Squarespace start at $18 per month for business plans. If your website breaks, and you need to hire a developer, you should budget $80-$150 per hour for help.
Fortunately, there is an easier—and much more affordable—option available. With Givebutter, you can launch an always-free donation page. You can add video and images, share your mission statement and an FAQ section, launch a supporter feed to help spark engagement, then embed a donation form to track incoming funds. Through your fundraising page, you can accept a wide variety of payment methods, including Apple Pay, PayPal, Venmo, ACH, and other methods.
5. Get creative when it comes to fundraising events
If you want to accomplish your mission, you need to devise a strategy to raise funds. Therefore, you'll need to organize several fundraising events to help attract new supporters and deepen your foothold within the community.
When planning your first fundraising event, be sure to attract both corporations and individuals as potential fiscal sponsors. Leverage a fundraising platform like Givebutter that can send invitations via email, SMS, or one-click social sharing. Reach out to several small businesses to see if they would be interested in serving as an official corporate sponsor. Lastly, reach out to community-based venues—such as your library, community center, or high school gymnasium—who might waive the rental fee for the event.
Not sure where to start? Here are 7 low-cost virtual fundraising event ideas and 17 free fundraising ideas anyone can use.
Use Givebutter to launch a nonprofit on a $0 budget
When launching a nonprofit, expect to get scrappy when it comes to operating costs. Fortunately, there are plenty of creative ways to kickstart your organization with zero budget. From filing for tax exemption, launching your website and marketing strategy, and throwing your first fundraising event, there are plenty of free, accessible tools available. Looking for more? Read the complete guide on how to start a nonprofit →
To help get your organization off the ground, launch your nonprofit with Givebutter. Givebutter is the always-free, modern, donor-friendly platform built with startup nonprofits in mind. The all-in-one platform comes complete with built-in fundraising pages, CRM capabilities, and marketing automation—all for free.
Sign up for a free account today to see how Givebutter can help you accomplish your mission.
Kylie thrives on supporting others, making everyone’s jobs easier, and cinnamon in her coffee.