Starting a nonprofit in Ontario: First steps

I consider myself something of a rarity (novelty?) in the School of Business at St. Lawrence College in that my motivation has always been more geared towards marketing in the nonprofit and public sectors vs. the private sector. This is largely due to my personal politics, but I have also come to believe that the nonprofit sector desperately needs an influx of marketing expertise and support, and I want to do my part to help fill the gaps – especially for my local community.

There are so many organizations in Kingston, ON that are working hard to serve the people of this community, but we are at risk of losing those services if we don’t help them to strategically plan for their activities, growth, and survival.┬áThe lack of expertise is largely due to funding constraints and small budgets for nonprofits, which means that career opportunities are minimal. Many nonprofits are staffed and managed by volunteers – as much by necessity as by design – and the skill sets of those volunteers (no matter how willing) does not often include strategic planning and marketing communications on a professional level.

Thankfully, there are some resources out there for organizations if you know where to look.┬áMore than that, I believe that marketing resources for nonprofits are increasingly available online due to the need mentioned above – fueled by increased access via digital and social media. These supports can range from basic videos like the one below, to web hubs for the sector.

I was recently approached by a community activist from Napanee who wanted to start a nonprofit that provided free bicycles to those in need in her region, and she really had no idea how and where to start. During our consultation, it was obvious that she is clearly an intelligent and hard-working volunteer with leadership abilities. She simply needs a helping hand from someone with experience, and some tools to help her navigate the process.

Even as someone with 8 years with Kingston nonprofits, it took a bit of thoughtful searching to figure out the most A/necessary B/practical and C/accessible resources to help her start the process. In the end, I gave her the following four links:

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Sector Source connects charities and nonprofits with resources that help develop organizations and support the work you do for your communities.

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Charity Village communicates employment opportunities and resources for the Canadian nonprofit and charity sector.

Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) – News, policy and resources for the nonprofit sector in Ontario

Ontario’s Not-for-profit Act – The legislative framework for nonprofits in the province of Ontario

This is just a starting point for a new organization, and I recognize that the information on these sites is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the tools and resources needed by nonprofit volunteers, boards, and community leaders. I would love to hear from other marketers and those with nonprofit experience if you have better examples or other easily available resources. Please feel free to contact me through the comments, or through any of the connections in the sidebar navigation.