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Starting a Nonprofit in High School

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    Are you passionate about social justice? Do you consistently find yourself seeking out community service opportunities? If there’s an issue in your community that’s not being addressed, you can try addressing it yourself. A very ambitious way to do this is to start a nonprofit. 

    Whether you’re interested in learning how to start a nonprofit dog rescue, how to start a nonprofit homeless shelter, or anything in between, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we will answer all of your nonprofit related questions, as well as provide you with a “starting a nonprofit checklist” for you to refer to during every step of the way. 

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    Starting a nonprofit foundation: teen success stories

    starting a nonprofit At this point, you’re probably wondering how do you start a nonprofit, anyway? 

    Before you get too intimidated by the prospect of starting up a nonprofit organization while you’re still in high school, just know that it is possible and that students have done it before you. 

    Setting up a nonprofit foundation is a sizable undertaking. You’ll need to have a lot of passion, motivation, and inspiration in order to succeed. Here’s an inspirational story to boost your confidence. It’s about one of our own college counselors, Matine Khalighi:

    Matine grew up prioritizing his values of caring for other people and giving back to the community. As an 8th grader, he was inspired to start a non-profit to combat student homelessness called EEqual. After months of filing paperwork to get a nonprofit status, recruiting sponsorships, applying for grants, developing a website, and leading a marketing campaign through social media, he finally instituted the youth-by-youth nonprofit, EEqual. He took a gap year to focus on developing the non-profit before enrolling at Harvard College. 

    Let’s take a quick look at another example: In 2016, 12-year-old Adom Appiah founded a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, Ball4Good, that raises money for charitable causes through community sporting events.  According to the nonprofit’s website: “Ball4Good is now a movement building community through celebrity games, charity drives, fundraising, grant making, playing sports, raising awareness and volunteering.”

    At this point, you’re probably wondering how do you start a nonprofit, anyway? 

    Before you get too intimidated by the prospect of starting up a nonprofit organization while you’re still in high school, just know that it is possible and that students have done it before you. 

    Setting up a nonprofit foundation is a sizable undertaking. You’ll need to have a lot of passion, motivation, and inspiration in order to succeed. Here’s an inspirational story to boost your confidence. It’s about one of our own college counselors, Matine Khalighi:

    Matine grew up prioritizing his values of caring for other people and giving back to the community. As an 8th grader, he was inspired to start a non-profit to combat student homelessness called EEqual. After months of filing paperwork to get a nonprofit status, recruiting sponsorships, applying for grants, developing a website, and leading a marketing campaign through social media, he finally instituted the youth-by-youth nonprofit, EEqual. He took a gap year to focus on developing the non-profit before enrolling at Harvard College. 

    Let’s take a quick look at another example: In 2016, 12-year-old Adom Appiah founded a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, Ball4Good, that raises money for charitable causes through community sporting events.  According to the nonprofit’s website: “Ball4Good is now a movement building community through celebrity games, charity drives, fundraising, grant making, playing sports, raising awareness and volunteering.”

    starting a nonprofit

    Understanding the different types of nonprofits

    So now that you know that starting a nonprofit in high school is possible, let’s shift our attention to some logistics. First and foremost, you need to understand what a nonprofit is: A nonprofit is a type of organization that uses the funds it gathers (be it by donations, sponsorships, or fundraisers) to run the organization, while at the same time, cycling that money back into the community. 

    There are two types of non-profit organizations that high schoolers can help crate:

    Umbrella organization: High schoolers can start an umbrella chapter of an already existing nonprofit. For example, you can start a EEqual chapter in your school. 

    Other popular chapter nonprofits include: 

    You can research additional opportunities at GuideStar, a nonprofit database.  

    Ground up organization: If you have your own unique idea, you start your organization from the ground up. These organizations require a lot of responsibility and involvement. Most likely, you will need legal assistance, in addition to making sure you have enough funds to cover your organization’s needs. Starting a brand new nonprofit is a time-consuming task, so you’ll need to be committed in order for your organization to be a success.

    Starting an umbrella organization

    Creating an umbrella organization is easier than starting from the ground up, but you still need determination and passion. The steps to start this type of organization are very similar to starting your own club.

    • Find a sponsor: This can be done by talking to your principal about the possibility of creating a nonprofit organization into a school club.
    • Find an advisor: Determine at least one school staff member that can serve as the sponsor and club advisor.

    • Complete the school forms to register as a club: Make sure you have all you need, including budget plans.
    • Recruit members: Talk to your classmates who might be interested and have them join.
    • Schedule meetings and events: Start your club events and keep them all year long!

    For more information on high school extracurricular activities, check out our articles, How Important Are Extracurriculars for College Admissions? and Over 50 Extracurricular Activities that Look Good on College Applications.

    Starting a branch of a national organization

    Another way to do this is to become affiliated to another nonprofit, for example start a branch of the national organization Habitat for Humanity. It is going to vary depending on each individual organization, but this is the basic outline that could be followed when you are interested in doing this type of partnership:

    • Determine if there is a chapter active in your area: If not, contact the organization with your idea to create one.
    • Research partners in your area: These partners include other nonprofits that can help you brainstorm events and who you can create joint missions with. These partnerships will help spread the word about your organization’s presence in your community.
    • Contact the main branch: Let them know about your plans and submit a form to create a new chapter.
    • Be prepared for all the legal documents: You will need these to have the same legal framework and legal benefits of the parent organization. While your organization continues to grow, always make sure you are meeting the standards and regulations outlined by the parent organization. It is advisable to get legal assistance involved to complete this step.
    • Spread the word throughout your community: This is crucial to recruit volunteers and to raise awareness of your organization’s presence. You will also need to recruit a board of directors who can help you coordinate events and assess how the organization is growing.
    • Stay involved! In order to keep the chapter active, you’ll need to stay involved and create leadership opportunities for new members so that the organization can grow.

    8 Steps for starting a nonprofit in high school

    nonprofit organization Starting a nonprofit from the ground up is very intensive. Before you begin, you’ll need to make sure you have time to balance your school work and other responsibilities. Keep in mind that if you start this project during summer, you’ll have more time and significantly less stress. That being said, starting a nonprofit isn’t just a summer project. It’s a long-term commitment you’ll have to nurture for years after graduating high school. 

    This process is extensive, but here is a short summary of what you are going to need to do:

    Starting a nonprofit from the ground up is very intensive. Before you begin, you’ll need to make sure you have time to balance your school work and other responsibilities. Keep in mind that if you start this project during summer, you’ll have more time and significantly less stress. That being said, starting a nonprofit isn’t just a summer project. It’s a long-term commitment you’ll have to nurture for years after graduating high school. 

    This process is extensive, but here is a short summary of what you are going to need to do:

    nonprofit organization

    01

    Identify a need in your community

    For you to gather sponsors and donations, you need to make sure that your nonprofit is helping solve an issue that is prominent in your society and not being addressed. You also need to make sure that there are no other organizations tackling this problem; otherwise your organization might not be successful because of competition over volunteers and resources.

    02

    Conduct relevant research

    Every state has different regulations and rules for nonprofit organizations. Look into your state’s guidelines and see if they’re doable for you. See if you can afford legal aid to help you file all the paperwork and determine if you have enough funds to start the organization. Just because it is a nonprofit does not mean it’s going to be free or even cheap to start. 

    03

    Design a plan to get started

    This plan should cover all aspects of the organization, from a marketing strategy to an organizational structure. Have all this available to make sure you have a guideline to follow.

    Here are a few questions you should address in your plan:

    • What type of events is your nonprofit going to have?
    • Who are you going to help and how?
    • Who is your target member audience?
    • How can you reach a wider audience?
    • How are you going to convince people to volunteer?
    • How many and what type of volunteers/staff will you need?
    04

    Consider finances

    Next up, how are you going to receive income? This question should be answered considering several options of income, like: private contributions, sponsors, fundraising, and government grants. You’ll also want to consider your current and future budget. Ask yourself: What is my budget and how am I going to finance different events and services? After you’ve spent some time outlining current and future financial considerations, it’s time to complete a “SWOT analysis” on your organization. SWOT stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threat. 

    05

    Choose a name for your organization

    The name needs to give some idea of what the organization is going to do. It may have to do with the problem you are addressing (ex: World Wide Fund for Nature) or with the people you are servicing (ex: Alzheimer’s Association) or the people that are volunteering (ex: Best Buddies). After you determine the name, you’ll need to make sure it’s not already taken.

    06

    Appoint a board of directors

    Generally, you’ll want to choose people who are very passionate about what your nonprofit is doing. A lot of states will require you to have this information available to start filing the paperwork. A good option to start with are your teachers. If one of them shares a passion with you to help the community, ask them if they would like to be involved. A lot of times, the board of directors is finalized many years down the line. For example, Matine still runs the organization and is a member of the board.

    07

    File the appropriate paperwork

    File the paperwork needed in your state to incorporate your organization: After choosing a business name and appointing a board of directors, you need to choose what type of legal structure your organization will have, which will most likely be an Association. This means that your organization is formed by a “group of persons banded together for a specific purpose,” according to the IRS. Alternatively, you could look into starting a nonprofit llc. 

    Next, you will need to file the paperwork needed, which depends on the state. Finally, you will need to apply to be tax exempt. To do this, you will need to become a 501(c)(3) organization. This means you are running an organization that is  considered “charitable” by the IRS. 

    After you submit this paperwork, make sure you have all the permits and legal documents that you will need to start running your nonprofit. Note that there are fees to file these forms.

    08

    Ongoing compliance

    After filing the tax forms, you will need to fill additional documentation to stay exempt. Research what this means for your state and what documents will need to be updated quarterly and annually. Most likely you will need legal assistance to accomplish step 6 and 7 on this list. Follow the business plan you created and make sure to make any alterations you need. 

    Key takeaways and moving forward

    how to start a nonprofit This project requires a lot of responsibility and accountability. Only begin a nonprofit if you know you have the time and the passion to work on it. We need to emphasize that this is a promise to your community to address a problem. You need to care for the project to make sure it is sustainable and reaches its goal of actually helping the community. If you are interested in this for the sole purpose of writing it on your college app, the nonprofit might not actually be effective. This is not your ticket into your dream school; it is an opportunity to help the community and help you grow as a person. 

    Whether you decide to go through with starting a nonprofit or not, there are still a lot of ways you can give back to your community. Find alternative ways to contribute to other organizations in your area and join service clubs to volunteer in your community. You can never do too little, every bit of help counts!

    If you have more questions about how to start a nonprofit, consider reaching out to one of our college counselors. In the meantime, check out some more of our blog posts, such as How Important Are Volunteer Hours for College Applications? and The Ultimate Guide to Passion Projects for High Schoolers

    This project requires a lot of responsibility and accountability. Only begin a nonprofit if you know you have the time and the passion to work on it. We need to emphasize that this is a promise to your community to address a problem. You need to care for the project to make sure it is sustainable and reaches its goal of actually helping the community. If you are interested in this for the sole purpose of writing it on your college app, the nonprofit might not actually be effective. This is not your ticket into your dream school; it is an opportunity to help the community and help you grow as a person. 

    Whether you decide to go through with starting a nonprofit or not, there are still a lot of ways you can give back to your community. Find alternative ways to contribute to other organizations in your area and join service clubs to volunteer in your community. You can never do too little, every bit of help counts!

    If you have more questions about how to start a nonprofit, consider reaching out to one of our college counselors. In the meantime, check out some more of our blog posts, such as How Important Are Volunteer Hours for College Applications? and The Ultimate Guide to Passion Projects for High Schoolers

    how to start a nonprofit

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