How to Start an Art Nonprofit Without Money

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Launch your arts-focused nonprofit without money by recruiting the right board.
Launch your arts-focused nonprofit without money by recruiting the right board. (Image: Dougal Waters/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

You have more enthusiasm than cash, but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t start a nonprofit without a cent. Plenty of people are willing to help you get your art-focused nonprofit off the ground. Your job is to find them and convince them of the worthiness of your cause. Start by putting your house in order: take care of the legalities and business side of your enterprise and recruit an energetic board. Before long, you’ll not only be a patron of the arts but a benefactor as well.

Things You'll Need

  • 501 (c) 3 status
  • Articles of incorporation
  • Goals and objectives
  • Mission statement
  • By-laws

Define your mission. List the types of projects and recipients your nonprofit will support once it’s up and running. Create policies and criteria for applying for loans, grants or gifts. Formulate application guidelines to be completed by artists seeking funds (e.g., only artists making less than $30,000 a year may apply).

Apply to the Internal Revenue Service for Section 501 (c) 3 nonprofit status. At the same time, file articles of incorporation to protect the organization’s future assets and those of officers and employees. Use an Internet legal website to incorporate if you have no attorney. Contact the IRS with questions pertaining to your charitable designation or incorporation at 1-800-829-4933.

Interview and appoint a board of directors. Choose a diverse mix of artists, business professionals, fundraisers and marketers. Task the board with writing by-laws, a mission statement, goals and objectives, fundraising guidelines and strategies. Assign each board member responsibility for one facet of the charity's organization: fundraising, marketing, administration, operations and financials.

Raise start-up money. Commission members of your board of directors to mine personal contacts for donations for your start-up once you’ve received nonprofit status from the IRS. Open a bank account. Contact your municipal government about licenses and permits you’ll need to operate in your community.

Convene the board to plan a fundraiser once seed money has been raised. Solicit in-kind donations from artists to stage a charity auction, art show or art-focused event. Use start-up funds to rent a venue, underwrite refreshments and print invitations. Spend less by asking benefactors to donate space, food, invitations, etc. Thank individual donors for their generosity by listing their names in the invitation and/or program.

Work with the board to create a one-year plan immediately after the fundraiser while spirits are high. Throw out ideas that will appeal to diverse donors. For example, ask area artists to donate original art and print boxed holiday and all occasion cards. Exhibit kid’s paintings and charge for admission to the event. Raise awareness by visiting municipal, service and special interest clubs. Appeal to large foundations known for giving grants to small agencies supporting the arts.

Build a database of arts supporters. Capture names and addresses from check, credit card and cash donation receipts. Keep a high profile. Market to your base repeatedly–but don’t contact donors only when your palm is extended. A website, online newsletter and other communication efforts will remind contributors of emerging artists and cultural events you've underwritten with their help.

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