How To Start A Nonprofit Organization With No Money? A Detailed Guide and 15 Methods to Raise Funds

You might think it’s too hard to start a nonprofit organization when you don’t have much money. But you can do it with little or no cost if you follow some important steps.

This article will show you how to set up a nonprofit organization without spending a lot of money.

How Much Does it Cost To Start Such an Organization?

The cost of starting a nonprofit organization varies significantly based on several factors, including the location, size, and scope of the organization. The most common expenses include government filing fees, legal costs, and initial operational expenses.

Government Filing Fees

The cost to file a 501(c)(3) application with the IRS is a significant initial expense. There are two forms: Form 1023-EZ, which costs $275, and the traditional Form 1023, which costs $600. These fees are mandatory for obtaining tax-exempt status.

State Incorporation Fees

Incorporating your nonprofit within your state is another requirement. This fee varies by state but typically ranges from $50 to over $100. It’s crucial to check with your state’s specific requirements.

Legal and Administrative Costs

Although not mandatory, seeking legal advice can be beneficial. Hiring an attorney can be costly, but pro-bono options may be available. Administrative costs, including creating a website, obtaining an EIN (Employer Identification Number), and setting up a bank account, also need consideration.

Operational Costs

nonprofit day-to-day

These are the costs of running the nonprofit day-to-day, including office space, utilities, and supplies. While some of these can be minimized or donated, they are still a factor in the overall budget.

Fundraising and Marketing

Initial marketing and fundraising efforts can incur costs. However, many free online tools and social media platforms can reduce these expenses significantly.

How to Raise Funds? [15 Available Solutions]

You need to raise money to start and keep your nonprofit organization going. You can do this by using different ways to get money, getting people involved, and telling them why your cause matters. Here’s a guide to help you with fundraising.

1. Develop a Clear Fundraising Plan

Fundraising Plan

  • Assess Your Needs: Understand the financial requirements of your organization. This includes operational costs, project funding, and other expenses.
  • Set Realistic Goals: Establish clear, achievable fundraising targets based on your assessment.
  • Identify Funding Sources: Consider various sources like individual donations, grants, corporate sponsorships, and fundraising events.

Nonprofits that set specific fundraising goals are 10 times more likely to achieve them compared to those without clear targets.

2. Build a Strong Online Presence

  • Create a Website: Your website should effectively communicate your mission, achievements, and how donations are used.
  • Leverage Social Media: Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be powerful tools for reaching potential donors and sharing your story.

55% of people who engage with nonprofits on social media end up taking some sort of action, like donating or volunteering.

3. Utilize Online Fundraising Platforms

Online Fundraising Platforms

  • Crowdfunding: Platforms like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Indiegogo can help raise funds for specific projects.
  • Online Donation Tools: Services like PayPal, Stripe, and Donorbox make it easy for donors to contribute.

Crowdfunding campaigns on platforms like GoFundMe have raised over $9 billion since its inception.

4. Apply for Grants

  • Research Opportunities: Look for grants offered by government bodies, foundations, and corporations.
  • Write Effective Proposals: Grant writing is a skill. Your proposal should clearly outline your mission, objectives, and how the funds will be used.

The average grant size received by small nonprofits is approximately $43,000.

5. Engage with Individual Donors

  • Build Relationships: Personal relationships with donors can lead to sustained support.
  • Donor Recognition: Acknowledge contributions publicly (if the donor agrees) to encourage others.

About 75% of individual donations come from people who give $100 or less. Keep in mind that some of them might prefer to say anonymous.

6. Host Fundraising Events

Fundraising Events

  • Plan Events: Events like charity dinners, auctions, or concerts can be significant fundraisers.
  • Engage Volunteers: Utilize volunteers to minimize costs and build community involvement.

Charity auctions, on average, raise 60% more funds when offering unique experiences rather than physical items.

7. Corporate Sponsorships and Partnerships

  • Identify Potential Partners: Look for businesses whose values align with your mission.
  • Offer Benefits: Show how partnering with your nonprofit can benefit the corporation, such as positive publicity and tax deductions.

Corporations are more likely to sponsor nonprofits that align with their own CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) goals.

8. Create a Membership Program

  • Offer Memberships: Provide a sense of belonging to donors by offering membership tiers with various benefits.
  • Regular Giving Programs: Encourage donors to contribute regularly through a subscription-based model.

Membership programs increase donor retention rates by creating a sense of belonging and ongoing engagement.

9. Utilize Merchandising

Nonprofit merchandise sales

  • Sell Products: T-shirts, mugs, and other merchandise can be a source of income and promotion.

Nonprofit merchandise sales can increase brand visibility by turning supporters into walking billboards.

10. Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

  • Leverage Supporters: Encourage supporters to raise funds on your behalf, expanding your reach.

Peer-to-peer campaigns typically raise twice as much as traditional fundraising methods.

11. Utilize In-Kind Donations

  • Non-Monetary Contributions: Accept donations of goods or services that your organization needs.

In-kind donations can account for approximately 20% of a nonprofit’s overall contributions.

12. Transparency and Accountability

Transparency and Accountability fund money

  • Show Impact: Regularly report on how funds are being used and the impact of your work.
  • Build Trust: Transparency builds trust, encouraging repeat donations and long-term support.

Organizations that are transparent about fund usage have a 50% higher chance of receiving repeat donations.

13. Government Funding and Support

  • Public Grants: Explore options for government funding, which can be substantial but often come with specific requirements.

Government grants can cover up to 60% of some nonprofit organizations’ budgets.

14. Network and Collaborate

  • Community Involvement: Engage with local communities, other nonprofits, and civic groups.
  • Partnerships: Collaborations can lead to shared resources and increased funding opportunities.

Networking leads to 30% more opportunities for nonprofits in terms of partnerships and funding sources.

15. Continuously Evaluate and Adapt


  • Assess Strategies: Regularly review what’s working and what’s not.
  • Adapt Accordingly: Be flexible and adapt your strategies as needed.

Nonprofits that regularly adjust their strategies based on data and feedback tend to see a 30% increase in successful outcomes.

Technical Steps For Starting a Non-Profit

Starting a nonprofit organization involves several technical steps that are crucial for its legal establishment and operational success. Here is a detailed guide to help you navigate this process:

  • Define Your Mission and Vision: Clearly articulate the purpose, goals, and objectives of your nonprofit. This will guide all your future activities and decisions.
  • Conduct Market Research: Understand the needs of the community you aim to serve and identify potential competitors or collaborators in your area.
  • Choose a Name for Your Nonprofit: Select a unique and meaningful name that reflects your mission and is easily searchable.
  • Incorporate Your Nonprofit: File articles of incorporation with your state’s Secretary of State office. This legal step formally establishes your nonprofit corporation.
  • Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN): Apply for an EIN from the IRS. It’s essential for tax purposes, even if you don’t have employees.
  • Draft Bylaws and Conflict of Interest Policy: Bylaws are the internal rules that govern your nonprofit. A conflict of interest policy is also required to ensure ethical operations.
  • Select Your Board of Directors: Recruit a diverse and skilled board to guide your organization. Typically, a nonprofit needs at least three board members.
  • Hold Your First Board Meeting: Officially organize your first meeting to adopt bylaws, set up a bank account, and initiate other key decisions.
  • File for Federal Tax-Exempt Status: Complete and submit IRS Form 1023 (or 1023-EZ for smaller nonprofits) to apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
  • Register for State and Local Taxes: Depending on your location, you may need to register for state and local taxes, including sales tax exemption.
  • Apply for Necessary Permits and Licenses: Ensure compliance with local, state, and federal regulations by obtaining any required permits or licenses.
  • Set Up a Recordkeeping System: Establish a system for maintaining important documents, including financial records, meeting minutes, and legal filings.


What charities make the most profit?

The top three charities that received the most private donations in 2020 were Feeding America, Good 360, and United Way Worldwide. They received billions of dollars each. However, profit is not a good measure of a charity’s effectiveness, as it does not account for how much of the money is spent on the charitable cause.

What is the hardest part of running a nonprofit?

Nonprofit organizations face many challenges and problems, such as limited government funding, unstable income, pressure to show results, and difficulty in balancing social impact and business objectives. Some of the ways to overcome these challenges are to diversify the sources of funding, use technology to streamline operations, measure and communicate the impact, and align the cost and the mission.

What are the four types of charity?

The four main types of charity structure in the UK are charitable incorporated organisation, charitable company, unincorporated association, and trust. The type of structure affects how the charity will operate, such as who will run it, whether it can enter into contracts or employ staff, whether the trustees will be personally liable, and whether it will have a wider membership.

What is the easiest fundraiser?

There is no definitive answer to what is the easiest fundraiser, as different fundraisers may suit different causes, goals, and audiences. However, some of the common factors that make a fundraiser easy are low cost, high popularity, and simple execution. Some examples of easy fundraisers are t-shirt sales, local restaurant partnerships, design challenges, and online auctions.

The Bottom Line

Starting a nonprofit with limited funds is achievable. Focus on clear planning, strategic fundraising, and thorough compliance with legal requirements. Success depends on effective use of resources, community engagement, and a strong commitment to your mission. Keep it practical, lean, and driven by purpose.