Evaluating the DIY charity option

Has starting your own charity ever crossed your mind? If the answer is "yes," you are not alone. Today's social impact culture mindset means more and more people are evaluating the options for making a difference in the community. Thousands of new charities are started each year by people passionate about a cause. If you've got a cause you're passionate about, how do you know whether starting your own charity is right for you? 

Here are two key questions to ask yourself before you get started. Be sure to ask the professionals at your community foundation for advice, too, as you work through these questions.  

First, do you really want to start a charity, or is a for-profit structure better for you? The answer starts with what you want to accomplish. And then you can see what revenue model is best. Either way, you have to ask for money--either by selling a product or service, or asking for people to give to support your cause. Check out the pros and cons of a nonprofit versus for profit.

Second, find out whether an existing charity already doing something similar. There are well over a million charities in the United States, so chances are pretty good that there is one that is doing what you want to do. Competition for dollars is high. Requests for charitable contributions are filling up everyone's inboxes, not just yours! A great idea is to consider incubating your idea as a volunteer within an existing charity to test the idea and get early traction. 

Remember, starting a charity is just like starting a business; it's just governed under a section of the tax code with rules relating to the deductibility of donations and the exemption from taxation. You still have to make sure ends meet and that your expenses don't exceed your revenue. 


1. You, your team, and your CEO no doubt get lots of calls from people who want your advice about starting a charity. Or, they are looking for ways to quickly start a charity so they can establish an income stream for themselves. It's all good--but sometimes it can be challenging to explain that your community foundation is not a good fit to help them. Use this article as a set of talking points for phone calls, or link to it in your email responses to the "DIY" inquirers.  

2. Share this article with your staff, along with a brief refresher course on the key requirements of a 501(c)(3) organization--specifically the requirement of public benefit versus private inurement, and the requirement that the organization be organized for exempt purposes. You can refer to the IRS circular, which does a great job laying out the rules and regulations for what qualifies as a 501(c)(3) organization. 

3. Have some fun with this topic at a roundtable of "Next Generation Donors." Invite the children and grandchildren of your donors to a brown bag lunch to discuss their hopes and dreams for the community. Then, connect the dots to organizations that are fulfilling these missions already. Talk about the benefits of working with an established organization versus starting an organization from scratch. 

Match your giving activities to your own personality type

Americans give more than $400 billion to charitable organizations every year. Giving is a popular activity in today's social impact culture. Not everyone likes to give in exactly the same way, though. The ways you like to give depend on your unique personality and how your preferences impact your social impact activities. 

For example, if you consider yourself to be an "activator," here are four activities you might enjoy as you do your giving: 

1.    Giving an increasing amount of money each year to a favorite charity based on the organization’s demonstrated results to improve the quality of life for the people or causes it serves.

2.    Giving money to three different charities collaborating to achieve a specific goal, such as increasing the graduation rate within a particular school, discovering new drugs to treat cancer, or rebuilding a community center in a blighted neighborhood.

3.    Giving to disaster-relief efforts after a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake.

4.    Giving money to charities with the condition that the charity report back on the results achieved with the money (e.g., 100 meals were served to homebound seniors).

For people who are natural connectors, these four things are typically appealing: 

1.    Hand-delivering checks to charities as an opportunity to say “hello” and “thank you” to the people working so hard to improve the lives of others.

2.    Giving money to a best friend’s favorite charity.

3.    Collaborating with family members during the holidays to make one big gift to a single charity instead of many small gifts to different charities.

4.    Encouraging children to add money to a piggy bank designated for charity and then mailing the money to the charity in an envelope with pictures drawn by the kids, or giving online with a credit card and emailing the pictures.

Finally, if your social impact personality type is an Investor, here’s are a few ideas to consider:

1.    Structure an estate plan to include several bequests to favorite charities.

2.    Give appreciated stock to a charity instead of cash, to minimize capital gains tax exposure.

3.    Set up a donor-advised fund to organize annual giving to charities.

4.    Establish a budget at the beginning of the year to include a percentage of income designated for gifts to charity.

The point here is that you'll enjoy giving to your favorite causes a lot more if you first understand your own personality and your preferences for helping others.

So what do you think? Is it time to get in touch with your good side?


This article is actually 13 articles in one. Start by posting the full article on social media. Then, follow up each week with another post, going deeper into each of the four ideas listed under each personality type. Don't worry--you don't need much content! Use a photo and a quick quote from your CEO, a donor, or a professional advisor to create pops of content. Always link back to the full article to get maximum traction.