How to Start an International Non Profit

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International nonprofits can be based in one country and work in another.
International nonprofits can be based in one country and work in another. (Image: Donations image by Rebs O from Fotolia.com)

Starting a nonprofit organization that operates internationally requires careful planning and forethought. You can base the organization in the United States and work toward benefiting a different part of the world. International nonprofits' challenges include fundraising and budget constraints. Even large organizations such as Care, which is based in the U.S. but operates mainly abroad and handles some $700 million in annual revenue, has a comparatively small budget when compared with large corporations in the United States. Nevertheless, starting an international nonprofit is possible if you have a solid financial plan to get you through the first few years.

Create a business plan for your international nonprofit that emphasizes the financial aspect of your operation. Include the focus of the nonprofit, who it will benefit, how you will raise money and how much money you need to begin. If you plan to raise money in the United States and use that money to help in another country, detail your plan of how you will raise funds in the U.S. Describe your website, if people can donate through the website, marketing plans, and any special events. If you need start-up capital, be specific and include a detailed budget. Be prepared to explain to potential donors where the money will go.

Register the nonprofit with the appropriate national agencies. If you're operating from the United States, register the nonprofit through your home state by filing articles of incorporation with your Secretary of State. This typically costs around $20 to $50 for most states (as of August 2010). If you are seeking 501c3 tax-exempt status from the IRS, apply by submitting IRS form 1023. Keep in mind that applying for 501c3 status is often a tedious and complex process that often can take more than six months to complete.

Establish the international bases of your operation. To operate abroad, you need reliable contacts and relationships in the foreign country or countries. Travel to the target country, establish working relationships and determine specific projects you will work on. If you don't speak the language, try to find a native speaker to travel with you from your country of origin. This is more reliable than finding a translator abroad.

Hire qualified help. Make sure you have a qualified person keeping track of the financial health of your new nonprofit. Hire a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) if you can afford one. The CPA will help you stay on financial track and build credibility as a serious nonprofit. Find people with solid management skills, business expertise or nonprofit experience to help you manage the international operation.

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