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How Veterans Who Want to Help Other Veterans Can Start a Non-profit
by Nellie Akalp
June 14, 2024
Veteran man working at a laptop

Veterans Helping Veterans

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, over 19 million veterans live within our communities. Although these individuals represent varied age groups, genders, races, and other demographics, they share an understanding of the challenges and opportunities of being a military veteran. The capacity to relate to the unique personal and professional obstacles has inspired some veterans to form non-profit organizations focused on helping other vets.

In this article, I’ll share some examples of veteran organizations that are serving vets and provide a checklist to help aspiring entrepreneurs work through starting a non-profit business.

It’s heartwarming and inspirational to see veteran organizations with such solid and impactful missions. Their dedication to assisting struggling veterans to overcome physical, mental, financial, and societal challenges and empowering them to lead fulfilling and successful post-military lives deserves our accolades.

Below, I’ve listed just a few examples of veteran-to-veteran non-profit organizations making a positive difference:

  • Warrior Reunion Foundation – Provides combat veterans an opportunity to reunite with their fellow soldiers and renew the bonds formed in service to the U.S.
  • Vets4Warriors – Provides sustained, confidential peer support to veterans, service members, family members, and caregivers
  • Air Warrior Courage Foundation – Provides financial support and other assistance to veterans, military members, and their families facing a variety of medical and economic challenges
  • Shift – Helps members of the military and veterans discover careers, acquire new skills, and find job opportunities
  • Military Talent Partners – Provides mentorship, coaching, and career discovery to help veterans and military spouses realize their potential and define their professional goals; Matches military talent with businesses seeking to hire individuals with their professional skills and qualifications

13 Steps to Starting a Non-Profit for Veterans

Forming a 510(c)3 non-profit organization is similar to starting a for-profit corporation — with some differences. Additional startup and ongoing requirements exist to obtain and maintain the tax-exempt benefits of operating as a non-profit. Below is a list of the general steps for veterans. However, the exact requirements will vary depending on the business’s location, industry, types of services, and other factors.

1. Get a SCORE Mentor

SCORE offers free mentoring to small business entrepreneurs. The non-profit organization’s cadre of volunteer mentors (some of whom are veterans) has diverse experience in virtually every industry and aspect of starting and running a business.  SCORE mentors provide feedback and guidance during all stages of a business’s development and growth. Again, mentoring is free of charge with no limits on the number of sessions or duration of the mentoring relationship.

Also, SCORE offers free or low-cost workshops and courses for entrepreneurs to build their business skills and knowledge.

2. Seek Professional Legal, Tax, and Financial Advice

There are many legal, tax, and financial aspects to consider when starting a non-profit organization. Therefore, it’s critical for veterans to consult professionals with expertise in those areas. A SCORE mentor may be able to suggest a list of trusted professionals in your area.

3. Write a Mission Statement

A mission statement is a clear and compelling description capturing a non-profit’s purpose, what people or groups it serves, and how it strives to serve them. It should be at the heart of the non-profit’s leaders’ decision-making and direct the organization’s work.

4. Prepare a Business Plan

A non-profit organization needs a roadmap to guide its efforts to get from point A to point B successfully. A business plan documents the vision and mission of the founders, and it details what leadership needs to address and the tasks it needs to complete to form the non-profit organization.

Elements included in business plans vary depending on the industry and services provided. Typically, they have the following sections and more:

  • Executive Summary – An overview of what the non-profit business will do and a summary of the programs, services, or products it provides
  • Services, Programs, and Products – Details about how the services, products, and programs will benefit the non-profit’s target market and how the organization will deliver its offerings
  • Market Analysis – Description of the non-profit’s target market, the needs within that market, an industry outlook, and the opportunities and challenges of serving the market
  • Marketing and Sales Strategies – Description of how the non-profit intends to brand and promote itself and the marketing and public relations tactics it will use to reach its target market
  • Management Team – Information about the organizational team members’ expertise and experience, along with qualifications it will seek in members of its board of directors
  • Financial Plan – Financial details and projections (e.g., donations, grants awarded, income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements) and fundraising strategies (e.g., events, mail campaigns, etc.)

5.  Choose a Business Name

A non-profit’s name can influence how identifiable and memorable the organization will be and how people perceive it. After brainstorming a name with some branding potential, entrepreneurs should conduct a name search to ensure no other company has claimed the desired name. If a veteran’s non-profit will serve fellow veterans in other states, it’s wise to do a trademark search to confirm the name is available for use in all 50 states.

6. Draft Bylaws

Bylaws set the internal operating rules for how a non-profit should be run. Details found within them typically include:

  • How much control the board of directors has vs. the non-profit’s organizers
  • Board of Directors’ and officers’ roles and responsibilities
  • Meeting rules
  • Voting procedures
  • Dispute resolution process

States don’t require bylaws to be filed with their agencies. However, nonprofit corporations should keep them readily available at their primary place of business.

7. Appoint a Board of Directors

A 501(c)3 non-profit must have a board of directors, a group of individuals accountable for overseeing the organization. These key stakeholders are tasked with ensuring the non-profit does not stray from its mission. Board members fulfill varied roles and responsibilities, so it’s helpful to seek members who have diverse knowledge and strengths.

States may require that boards have a certain number of members or have other requirements that non-profits must consider when appointing board members.

8. File Non-Profit Incorporation Paperwork with the State

Non-profit corporations must register in their state by completing and submitting a form called Articles of Incorporation (sometimes known as Certificate of Incorporation) with the Secretary of State office. The filing fees vary from state to state. If a veteran’s non-profit will have physical locations or economic nexus in more than one state, it must apply for foreign qualification in the additional states where it will have operations.

It’s also important for entrepreneurs to check if any of the states where they intend to conduct fundraising activities require Charitable Solicitation Registration.

9. Hold an Initial Member Meeting

If the bylaws require it, the organization’s founders should hold a meeting to elect the non-profit’s board members.

10. Obtain an EIN (Employer Identification Number)

Non-profit corporations must request an EIN from the IRS to open a bank account, apply for business licenses and permits, hire staff, and complete certain business documents. The form to apply for one is IRS Form SS-4.

11. File for 501(c)(3) Tax Exemption.

Applying for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status involves filing Form 1023 [Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code] or Form 1023-EZ with the IRS.

Entrepreneurs should anticipate it will take some time for tax-exemption approval.  The IRS will likely have questions about the application. Expect that it may take between three to twelve months for the IRS to return its decision on granting  501(c)(3) tax exemption.

Some states will automatically provide non-profits tax-exempt status at the state level. However, some states require non-profits to submit additional forms and documentation.

12. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits.

Non-profit organizations usually need certain business licenses and permits to operate legally. Where the non-profit is located, and the type of activities it conducts will determine the specific requirements at the federal, state, and local levels.

13. Keep Tabs on Ongoing Compliance Requirements.

Not only is dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s critical when starting a non-profit, but it’s also essential for keeping the organization in good standing with the state and maintaining tax-exempt status.

Some of the possible tasks could include:

  • Maintain a registered agent
  • File an annual report
  • File a tax return
  • Maintain tax-exemption status by following the IRS’s rules
  • Maintain charitable solicitation registration
  • Follow the bylaws
  • Renew business licenses and permits

Resources for Entrepreneurial Veterans

Fortunately, veterans do not have to go it alone when working through starting their businesses. In addition to a SCORE mentor’s expertise, here are some other veteran-specific entrepreneurial resources.

About the author
Nellie Akalp
Nellie Akalp is a passionate entrepreneur, business expert, professional speaker, author, and mother of four.
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