How to Start a Nonprofit Organization with No Money

How to Start a Nonprofit Organization with No Money

how to start a nonprofit organization with no money

You’ve decided to save the world but are stymied because you have no funds. Don’t worry. You don’t have to stop with the dream. Starting a nonprofit is simpler than it seems. Most people don’t start a nonprofit for the money and rarely have a lot of excess funds. We wrote this article to assure you that starting a nonprofit with no money is possible, and we’ve included a few steps to do it.

  1. Create a Business Plan
  2. Build a Board
  3. Find an Online Fundraising Tool That’s Free to Start
  4. Assemble Supporters and Create a Team of Passionate Volunteers
  5. Hold Free Events and Online Campaigns
  6. Apply for Community Grants
  7. Find Fiscal Sponsors
  8. Form Corporate Partnerships

Before we start, let’s take a look at the most basic question.

Can You Start a Nonprofit with No Money?

The answer to this question is, of course, yes. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be writing this article. However, that does not mean there are no costs in the beginning.

Typically, fees to start a nonprofit cost around $1,000. To register your 501c3 organization with the Internal Revenue Service, you must pay a minimum of $275 to file Form 1023 EZ. If you must incorporate with your state, you can expect to pay another $100 or more.

The costs of government fees can add up in the beginning, so how is it possible to start a nonprofit with no money?

There are immediate funding options available to nonprofits. Some of these are grants. Others are donations from friends, board members, and other community members. The trick is knowing where to look and starting your organization off on the right foot.

We’ve written several articles to walk you through the steps to starting a nonprofit.

However, the below steps are specifically focused on helping you start your nonprofit with no money.

8 Essential Steps to Starting a Nonprofit Organization with No Money

The following 6 steps will direct you to potential grant sources and show you how to fundraise for free to meet short and long-term goals.

1. Create a Business Plan

Nonprofit business plans can help new nonprofits find funding sources right away. Business plans describe your nonprofit and provide a roadmap for your board and staff to follow for the next 3 to 5 years.

New nonprofits may not have all the financial paperwork you usually need for a business plan, but operational funding projects and anticipated costs should help you get started.

Your business plan should include:

  • Ideal donor type
  • Marketing plan
  • Day-to-day operations
  • Impact plan
  • Financial plan

2. Build a Board

Nonprofit boards are excellent sources of income, advice, and marketing. Here are three ways your board can help you get funds and save you money from the start.

2.1 Board donations

Most nonprofits require board members to give an annual donation. You may feel uncomfortable asking for this initially, but it is vital to start this trend in the beginning. Most board members won’t blink an eye at the request because they know nonprofits need money. It’s also crucial they understand helping raise these funds is a large part of their role.

Pro tip: Ask board members to give a few hundred dollars to $1,000 a year or make smaller recurring monthly donations. Your board members are the best way to immediately raise money for your nonprofit.

2.2 Pro bono work

Nonprofits need individuals with specific careers and work experience on their board. New nonprofits may require a lawyer to help you form your nonprofit and walk you through any legal requirements. If you can get a lawyer on your board, you can get free legal advice and the support needed to ensure you’re on a solid legal footing.

2.3 Promotions and marketing

Your board is the face of your organization. A primary role of every board member is to promote the organization within the community and build relationships with potential donors.

The minute a new member joins your board, you should ask them to list potential donors with whom they already have relationships. After creating the list, work with them to build a donor profile and create a moves management plan for each donor.

Many of these prospects won’t provide funds immediately. But as you keep strengthening them and maintaining transparency, donations will pour in.

3. Find an Online Fundraising Tool That’s Free to Start

Online donations have become popular with every generation, and after the Covid-19 pandemic, organizations realized that having a way to collect online donations was necessary. There are several donation software options available. Some require a monthly fee, but others have no monthly fee or start-up costs. Those are the ones you’ll need in the beginning.

Moreover, if you’re choosing an all-in-one fundraising solution, in the beginning, you can also cut down on the cost of buying a domain and building a website. Your free fundraising tool should offer you free fundraising pages, great to start with!

DonorBox is free to sign up for and has no contract or setup fees. Nonprofits can start raising funds in minutes with customizable recurring donation forms and free Donorbox-hosted donation pages. The pages can be customized to add logos, images, and videos, and change colors to match your branding. Here’s an example.

how to start a nonprofit organization with no money

Sign Up For Free

You can also easily manage donors on the tool, segment them, and add any communication details to the donor records. All this for free! There’s a nominal platform fee of 1.5% and Stripe’s and PayPal’s processing fees, that you can ask the donors to cover. 80% of donors usually do so.

how to start a nonprofit organization for free

There are other great features like Text-to-Give, Events, Peer-to-Peer, Crowdfunding, Memberships, and QuickDonate to help you raise more funds, acquire new donors, and boost your nonprofit’s outreach in the most affordable way possible.

After setting up your Donorbox account, you can ask friends, family, and your board to share your donation page and campaign details with their networks.

4. Assemble Supporters and Create a Team of Passionate Volunteers

As a starting nonprofit, you may not have a large pool of supporters. But definitely, a lot. These are people who believe in your cause and mission and have encouraged you to start a nonprofit organization. It is time to assemble them and ask them to volunteer. Every one of them would have a specific skill or more than one they can help you with. It can be IT skills – great for helping you build a basic website, to begin with. It can also be marketing or advertising, or management. If someone has been volunteering with other similar nonprofits, they’d have a lot of knowledge and strategy-building skills to help you get started and grow. Don’t shy away from asking who can help you with what.

Involve these volunteers in your decisions and strategies. Divide them into specific teams and delegate leadership duties. That would help take some of the load off your shoulder. Keep frequent meetings but be careful to not over-burden anyone. Arrange for basic training by experienced volunteers for the new ones. Educate each and every one of them on your mission and vision.

Volunteers are your key to starting a nonprofit with no money. Since you cannot hire staff or experienced fundraisers at the start, they’ll help you get the ball rolling. As they grow with your nonprofit, they’ll be able to add more value to it. Remember to reward them and acknowledge all their efforts from time to time.

5. Hold Free Events and Online Campaigns

Events and fundraising campaigns remain the best and quickest ways to raise funds for your nonprofit. Most new organizations assume they can’t hold an event until they have funds, but that’s backward. New nonprofits can hold several events to raise funds in the beginning.

Here are some great ideas to get started with events and fundraising for free.

Free event ideas

5.1 Restaurant fundraisers

Restaurant fundraisers are a free and easy way to make a few hundred dollars. Many restaurants offer local charities a percentage of the day’s income in exchange for bringing in a crowd. If you can encourage enough people to buy dinner at the restaurant that day, you can bring in hundreds or even a thousand dollars.

Alternatively, you can hold a dinner event in partnership with a local restaurant and sell tickets online. Ticket sales continue to be one of the best ways to raise funds for a charity. With Donorbox, you can create an event page for free and add multiple ticket levels as per your and the restaurant’s pricing strategy for each meal package. Both of you need to market the event within the community. Encourage your board members and volunteers to spread the word and buy tickets for themselves and family. If the local eatery is already a popular place for people, you can easily raise a lot of money to start your nonprofit.

With Donorbox Events, your purchasers’ details and sold tickets can be managed at the backend. This means you’ll be able to store their basic contact information and get in touch later to thank them and strengthen the relationships. Donorbox Events also lets your ticket purchasers make donations from the event ticketing form.

Here’s an example of a themed dinner fundraiser event. You can refer to this for inspiration on building a restaurant fundraiser event page and setting an optimal price for tickets.

how to start a nonprofit organization for free

5.2 Collect change at local stores

Nonprofits can raise a consistent income by collecting change from their supporters. Organizations can do this by asking local businesses to add a coin jar next to the register to collect changes on your behalf.

You can also deploy one of your team members to explain the mission of your nonprofit to people visiting the store and collect changes to start your nonprofit. This will be more effective since you’re just about to start and people may hesitate to leave changes for a new organization with no impact yet. Someone to explain your cause will increase the chances.

Free online campaign ideas

5.3 Membership campaigns

Creating a membership program right at the start of your nonprofit can help you build relationships with board members, the community, and potential donors. It will ensure a regular stream of income to your organization, not just for starting up but for continuous growth.

Form a committee to help create a membership package, develop an action plan, recruit new members, and develop membership perks. Your membership campaign can include board members, friends, and family to begin with. Ask them to spread the word and talk about the benefits your nonprofit will be providing.

Remember you’ll need to provide regular updates and impact reports to your members to increase transparency and build trust in your organization.

With Donorbox Memberships, you can offer monthly and annual membership options, add unlimited membership tiers, let your members manage their membership accounts on Donorbox, and track memberships and membership payments at the backend. Here’s an example of a membership campaign by a nonprofit organization that uses Donorbox.

starting a nonprofit with no money

Get Started With Donorbox

5.4 Peer-to-peer and crowdfunding campaigns

The fastest and easiest way to raise funds for starting your nonprofit is to leverage the power of shareability and your supporters’ networks.


Now, who hasn’t heard of crowdfunding? When you’re about to start your nonprofit, consider it a big project requiring a significant fund that needs to be raised in a limited time. Perfect for crowdfunding! Start a crowdfunding campaign, add your fundraising goal to it, tell your inspiring story behind starting a nonprofit, add shareability options, and promote the campaign. Encourage your community, board members, and other supporters to donate whatever amount they can and share the campaign with their networks to help you raise more money.

With Donorbox, you can easily set up a crowdfunding campaign in minutes and add descriptions, images, and videos to it. You’ll have a recurring donation form attached to it, as well as social media sharing buttons, a subscription button for potential donors, an updates tab, a donor wall, and a goal thermometer. Check out this example below.

how to start a charity with no money

Pro tip: Add updates regularly to your crowdfunding campaign. Acknowledge each donation with a virtual donor wall on the page and set up automatic donation receipts. When you care about your donors and what they expect from your campaign, it will be easier to encourage them to share the campaign with their networks.

Peer-to-peer fundraising

When you’re just starting out, you still have a lot of supporters in the community, board members, friends, neighborhood, and family. Turn your crowdfunding campaign or any other online fundraising campaign into a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign and boost your donations.

The idea is simple: you’ll invite your supporters to fundraise for you. They’ll, in turn, create their own fundraising pages and start reaching out to their networks to raise more money. This way, you’ll also get to find lots of new donors.

With Donorbox Peer-to-Peer, you can just toggle a switch on an existing or a new campaign and turn it into a peer-to-peer one. Inviting them is also easy. Just put in their names and email addresses. Donorbox will send them email invitations. They’ll be guided on the tool to create and customize the fundraising pages. All donations will be credited to your parent campaign.

Here’s an example of a fundraiser raising funds for Maya’s Hope with Donorbox Peer-to-Peer. Here’s their parent crowdfunding campaign for your reference.

how to start a foundation with no money

Pro tip: Help your fundraisers with constant updates on the original campaign. Provide them with stories, images, or videos. Include them in any marketing strategy you’re working on to boost outreach. Seek their feedback and improve. Strengthening your relationship with these supporters and be there for them as they help you raise money.

6. Apply for Community Grants

Community grants are created to benefit local communities, and as a new nonprofit, you’re exactly who they’re looking for. These grants are not a lot of money, but you don’t need much to start.

There are several types of community grants from government and corporate sources. Find a local government grant program or company that matches your nonprofit’s mission. Companies like Walmart also offer community grants of $250 to $5,000 for local organizations.

7. Find Fiscal Sponsors

Fiscal Sponsors are community foundations, religious organizations, and other nonprofits interested in strengthening their community by supporting new nonprofits like yours. Fiscal sponsors are an excellent way to raise funds to form a nonprofit. Thanks to a nonprofit organization’s sponsorship, your organization could apply for grants and other tax-deductible donations under their exempt status.

Fiscal Sponsors also provide administrative support and oversight to other organizations with a similar mission. Visit the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors to find one that matches your nonprofit’s mission and goals.

8. Form Community Partnerships

Community Partnerships are vital to the long-term success of your nonprofit. Organizations can start building these relationships right away.

8.1 Corporations

If you already have a personal connection to a local corporation or business leader, now is the time to let them know you’re starting a nonprofit. See if you can find a company or leader interested in the same mission. Now may not be the time to ask for a lot of money, but find ways the two organizations may be able to work together.

Matching gifts and volunteer days are an excellent way to start these relationships. You can ask the company if they’d like to match donations to your online campaign up to a certain amount (example shown below). Also, ask them to encourage their employees to turn volunteers for your organization for an event day and help you raise money.

how to start a foundation with no money

8.2 Media

If you’ve received a community grant or other local nonprofit support to get started, you can use this opportunity to get media promotion. Write and send a press release to your local newspaper when you apply and win a community grant. Explain the connection between both groups. Include a quote from someone within the group you’re receiving assistance from.

Remember to include a link to your donation page or online campaign where readers can give to your organization. Additionally, mention upcoming events and fundraising campaigns. The idea should be to get people excited about your new organization as well as empathize with the cause.

Final Thoughts

It takes a lot of passion and hard work to start a nonprofit, but it doesn’t have to take much money. Starting a nonprofit with no money is possible. The steps discussed in this article give you a road map to follow. With these steps, you’ll not only raise the money you need to get started but also will build a loyal supporter base for your organization right at the start.

Donorbox helps nonprofits get started on the right foot with plenty of online fundraising features and efficient donor management. You can sign up for free and there are no monthly costs involved. Some of our best features include Crowdfunding, Peer-to-Peer fundraising, Events, Memberships, Recurring Donations, Customizable Donation Pages, QuickDonate, etc.

Once you’ve started your nonprofit and have begun to grow, get in touch with us to discover your full donation potential. We’ll help you with an expert fundraising coach, a dedicated account manager, high-performance tools, and a team of tech wizards. This success package called Donorbox Premium comes at a personalized price with affordability in mind for every nonprofit.

Explore the Donorbox Nonprofit Blog to get additional tips, fundraising ideas, donor management resources, and more. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a curated list of our best resources delivered to your inbox every month.

Kristine Ensor is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working with local and international nonprofits. As a nonprofit professional she has specialized in fundraising, marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and board development.

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