A Call to Serve

Four steps to starting a no-nonsense nonprofit

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Terri J. Brown, 33, came out of a troubled past involving drugs and truancy and developed a desire to give back to her community. “I wanted to go back to the heart of North Philadelphia where I grew up and show the youth that there are alternatives,” says Brown, who went on to become a college graduate and successful professional.

Founder of We Are S.E.E.D.S. Inc., Brown’s nonprofit organization—whose acronym stands for Sisters Empowering Excellence, Determination, and Success—sends mentors into the community to work with girls between the ages of 11 and 18 to help them increase their self-esteem, discourage promiscuity, and make responsible choices. Mentors present workshops, take girls on field trips, and expose them to educational and career options.

We Are S.E.E.D.S. is a 501(c)(3) organization that runs on donations and spends between $150,000 and $175,000 mentoring about 250 girls per year. It now has a board of directors and all-volunteer staff and is working on implementing a funding structure that would allow for a full-time staff. Brown says regardless of the financial strains the organization may face, their efforts are never in vain. She adds, “We give these young women an opportunity to see something different so that they can become something different.”

Although the mission may stem from a personal interest, launching a nonprofit takes time, money, and dedication—like any successful business venture. The Canton, Michigan-based Society for Nonprofit Organizations offers these tips for those looking to get started:

Define your purpose. By writing a mission statement, you’ll clarify your goals and let people know what your organization is hoping to accomplish.

Create a board of directors. Find people who will be dedicated to your cause and who can provide some type of expertise, such as legal, fundraising, or marketing assistance.

File articles of incorporation. Once you incorporate your nonprofit, it becomes a legal entity of its own, eliminating the risk of those involved with the organization being held liable in case of any legal action taken against it.

Apply for nonprofit status from the IRS. As a 501(c)(3) organization, your nonprofit will be exempt from paying federal income taxes and will be able to accept tax-deductible contributions. However, it must meet certain conditions. For example, it can’t operate for the benefit of the founder’s or other members’ private interests, and it must have a purpose that falls under certain categories such as education or religion. For more information about IRS requirements, visit IRS.gov.

To read more about Terri J. Brown and her organization We Are S.E.E.D.S, check out the September 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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