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The organizational lifecycles of nonprofits, start up


Start-up is an exciting time for the organization as the founders develop the idea for the mission, gain support (e.g. financial or new connections), and apply for and receive tax-exempt status. The organization is run by volunteers at this stage, with management and leadership fitting in with the founders' other obligations. 

At this stage, the organizational leaders feel like they need “everything,” often including help on where to start. Priorities should be mission (program development and delivery) and finding money to support the mission.


Standards for Excellence Guiding Principle

Characteristics and Priorities

Maryland Nonprofits' Resources

Mission, Strategy and Evaluation

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  • Develop a mission statement.
  • Define success, set goals.
  • Develop a business plan.
  • Develop programming plans.
  •  Standards for Excellence Packet: Mission, Impact and Planning

Leadership: Board, Staff and Volunteers

Four people putting items into brown paper bags

  • Your board may be a “kitchen table” board consisting of friends of the founder(s).
  • Founders may focus on organizational start-up steps while simultaneously running programs.
  • Recruit and orient volunteers.
  • Decision-making is consensus-based.
  •  Board Room Quick Tips: Board Member Job Descriptions
  •  Board Room Quick Tips: Board President
  • Resource: Roberts Rules for Boards
  •  Standards for Excellence Packet: Board Member Responsibilities
  •  Standards for Excellence Packet: Board and Executive Partnership
  •  Standards for Excellence Packet: Board Member Composition and Independence
  •  Standards for Excellence Packet: Personnel Policies, Employee Orientation, Evaluation, and Compensation

Legal Compliance and Ethics

A young woman wearing a lab coat, goggles and gloves, holding a beaker full of a green liquid

  • Establish founding documents; conflict of interest policy.
  • Consider fiscal sponsorship.
  • File with Maryland Secretary of State. 

Finance and Operations

A group of students looking down at a book a young woman is holding

  • Establish a bank account.
  • Establish a Treasurer/ volunteer bookkeeper.
  • Establish an office (usually a home office)
  • Consider fiscal sponsorship.
  • Technology – utilize free online resources such as MailChimp.

Resource Development

A man kneeling beside a lake, holding a vial and examining the contents

  • Angel donors
  • Initial grant(s)
  • Self-funded (board)
  •  Standards for Excellence Packet: Fundraising on Behalf of the Organization
  •  Standards for Excellence Packet: Disclose It: A Charitable Nonprofit's Guide to Disclosure
  •  Standards for Excellence Packet: Fundraising Solicitation and Acceptance of Gifts and Working with Donors
  •  Standards for Excellence Packet: Fundraising Costs

Public Awareness, Engagement and Advocacy

A young woman handing an elderly woman a bottle of medicine

  • Name/brand the organization.
  • Establish online presence.
  • Word of mouth marketing, no formal marketing.
  • Press release; media attention to new organization.
  •  Resource: Setting Up Your Web Presence
  •  Resource: Writing a Press Release
  •  Standards for Excellence Packet: Educating and Engaging the Public


Better governance and management practices allow you to focus on meeting your mission, strengthen fundraising, improve decision-making, prepare for transition, minimize risk, and engage your board. Learn more about the Standards for Excellence Code - and embark on your organization's path to Excellence.

To see resources for other stages or to return to the Nonprofit Lifecycle home page, click below:


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