5 Tips for Creating Nonprofit Chapters and Affiliates
You had a dream to start a nonprofit organization for a cause you're passionate about. Creating a local office and overseeing the day-to-day running of your 501(c)(3) is a bit different than expanding and creating additional nonprofit chapters and affiliates. Making your program available to a broader audience sounds like a great idea, but the logistics are sometimes challenging.
There are over 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations in the U.S. Studying other nonprofits that have expanded and created successful chapters helps other organizations learn how to repeat that success. You must consider some specific factors when growing your organization, such as how much control you want over each chapter and how fast you'd like to scale as a nonprofit. Avoid some of the pitfalls by following these five tips for creating nonprofit chapters and affiliates.
1. Choose Governance
Before you expand your operations, it's essential to implement firm rules about who is in charge. What type of governance does each chapter have, and who makes the rules and drives change in the national organization? Although the management policies that work best for your organization are a highly-personalized decision, some basic practices result in a positive leadership structure.
- Keep records of past meetings. This practice helps you better understand why you made the decisions you made and what forms the policies.
- Set up standards for the board. How do you handle conflicts of interest? Who has the final say in major decisions?
- Determine local governance structures. How do your chapters answer to the national board?
- Decide how much decision-making freedom affiliates have. Are there any issues you don't feel you can be flexible on?
Make sure you disclose all board meeting minutes to any members, and even to the public, to keep everyone accountable. Any compensation of a CEO or others should be reasonable to market rates.
2. Set Up Rules
Figure out what principles you hold dear. Your vision of an animal rescue organization may look vastly different than the concept someone in another state has. If you don't put some rules in place, you might have others using your name and story, but doing things you disagree with. Policies keep everyone on the same page and also give you a yardstick to measure affiliates by. If someone consistently breaks the rules, it might be time to part ways and let them go with a different organization or create their own. Since you are putting your name and reputation behind individual chapters, you want them to hold to your standards.
3. Choose a Central Location
Once your organization begins growing, you may find chapters springing up all across the country. Finding a location that is accessible to as many as possible is a vital part of any organization’s growth. Choose a major city for the most flexibility, so chapter leaders can easily fly in for training sessions, and you can quickly fly out to visit different offices around the nation.
Make sure your office space is affordable, but allows for scalability as your organization grows. Moving isn't an easy process, so you'll need to factor in the cost of moving and how to transfer your current office to a new one, including any furnishings and files you already own.
4. Manage Your Finances
Increasing the size of your nonprofit also means there will be more funds coming in and going out of the organization. As the numbers grow, recordkeeping and accountability become even more essential. Here are a few things to keep in mind, both for the home office and any local chapters:
- File everything. Hire a full-time bookkeeper or accountant to track all debits and credits to your accounts. If you buy a new computer for the main office, make sure someone scans the receipt and files it away for future reference in case there are any questions. At the same time, the accountant must enter the purchase as a debit and include a description. Most bookkeeping programs allow you to set up categories for expenses.
- Conduct an annual audit. Every chapter in your organization and the main headquarters should have an independent annual audit. If there is ever any question about spending or whether everything is above board, you'll have the proof from the audit and your bookkeeping. Conducting regular audits protects your organization's leaders from any appearance of impropriety.
- Seek out deals. Just because you have donations and possibly plenty of money in your coffers doesn't mean you should make purchases without worrying about your budget. Take the time to write out a strict budget with line items for all your expenses. Negotiate better deals on services and turn off the lights when no one is in a room in the office, so your bills are lower. Show donors you use their funding wisely, and they'll be more likely to gift you with financing in the future.
5. Invest in Management Software
One of the biggest challenges of managing multiple locations is getting everyone on the same page. Even organizing volunteer activity becomes overwhelming at times. Fortunately, several software options allow everyone to get on the same page for nationwide campaigns and can even help smaller chapters tracking local resources.
Solutions such as DonorPerfect help organizations track donors and campaigns, and CRMs such as Aplos are cloud-based and allow nonprofits to connect data no matter where they are in the world. You can also use online project management software for fundraisers and marketing campaigns, allowing people from different chapters to provide input.
Before expanding your nonprofit, decide how much control you'd like to have over the various aspects of your brand. Lining up your leadership structure and getting software systems in place ahead of time allows for easier on-boarding of new chapter leaders. Study what other successful 501(c)(3) nonprofits have done before you and repeat their successes while avoiding their failures.