How to Start a Nonprofit Organization with No Money

Starting a nonprofit with little to no money is possible, and we know the steps you need to take to make it happen. In this blog, you’ll learn how to create a business plan, build a board, find online fundraising tools, solicit donors and volunteers, hold free events and online campaigns, apply for community grants, find sponsors, and form community partnerships.

10 minutes read
How to Start a Nonprofit Organization with No Money

You’ve decided to save the world but are stymied because you have no funds. Don’t worry! You don’t have to stop with the dream.

Starting a nonprofit organization with no money is simpler than it seems. Most people don’t start a nonprofit for the money anyway and rarely have a lot of excess funds! This article shows you how to start a nonprofit on a budget by sharing a few critical steps that will help you on your journey to putting your mission into action. 

Before we start, let’s answer your most pressing question.

Can You Really Start a Nonprofit with No Money?

The answer to this question is, of course, yes. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be writing this article! This does not mean, however, that there are no costs in the beginning.

Fees to start a nonprofit are typically around $1,000. To register your 501c3 organization with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the United States, you must pay a minimum of $275 to file Form 1023 EZ. If you must incorporate with your state, you can expect to pay another $100 or more.

The costs of government fees can add up in the beginning, so how is it possible to start a nonprofit with no money?

There are immediate funding options available to nonprofits. Some of these are grants. Others are donations from friends, board members, and other community members. The trick is knowing where to look and starting your organization off on the right foot.

We’ve written several articles to walk you through the steps to starting a nonprofit. Also, here’s a free start-a-nonprofit checklist from our Donorbox Library to help you on this incredible journey!

The steps outlined below, however, are specifically focused on helping you start your nonprofit with no money.

8 Essential Steps to Starting a Nonprofit Organization with No Money

The following eight steps will help you get started, including directing you to potential grant sources and showing you how to fundraise for free to meet short and long-term goals.

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1. Create a Business Plan

Nonprofit business plans can help new nonprofits find funding from various sources. Business plans describe your nonprofit and provide a roadmap for your board and staff to follow for the next three to five years.

New nonprofits may not have all the financial paperwork you usually need for a business plan, but operational funding projects and anticipated costs should help you get started.

Your business plan should include:

  • Your ideal donor type
  • A strategic marketing plan
  • Detailed day-to-day operations
  • An impact plan
  • A financial plan

2. Build a Board

Nonprofit boards are excellent sources of income, advice, and marketing or networking capabilities. Here are three ways your board can help you get funds and save you money from the start.

2.1 Board donations

Most nonprofits require board members to give an annual donation. You may feel uncomfortable asking for this initially, but it is vital to start this trend from the beginning of your organization. Most board members won’t blink an eye at the request because they know nonprofits need money. It’s also crucial they understand that helping raise these funds is a large part of their role.

Pro tip: Ask board members to give a few hundred dollars to $1,000 a year as a membership or request that they set up smaller recurring monthly donations. Turning your board members into long-term donors is the best way to immediately raise reliable income for your nonprofit!

2.2 Pro bono work

Nonprofits need individuals with specific careers and work experience on their boards. For example, newer nonprofits may require a lawyer to help you form your nonprofit and walk you through any legal requirements. If you can get a lawyer on your board, you can get free legal advice and the support needed to ensure you’re on solid legal ground.

2.3 Marketing and networking

Your board is the face of your organization. The primary role of every board member is to promote and market the organization within the community as well as build relationships with potential donors.

The minute a new member joins your board, you should ask them to list potential donors with whom they already have relationships. After creating the list, work with them to build a donor profile and create a moves management plan for each donor.

Many of these prospects won’t provide funds immediately. But as you keep strengthening relationships and maintaining transparency, donations will pour in.

3. Find an Online Fundraising Tool That’s Free to Start

With more and more people choosing to online donations as their preferred giving method, having an effective online donation form is a must. There are several donation software options available. Some require a monthly fee, but others have no monthly fee or start-up costs. Those are the ones you’ll need in the beginning.

Moreover, if you’re choosing an all-in-one fundraising solution, in the beginning, you can also cut down on the cost of buying a domain and building a website. Your free fundraising tool should offer you free fundraising pages, great to start with!

DonorBox is free to sign up for and has no contract or setup fees. Nonprofits can start raising funds in minutes with customizable recurring donation forms and free Donorbox-hosted donation pages. The pages can be customized to add logos, images, and videos, and change colors to match your branding. Here’s an example.

PS 110 NY Donation Page

Sign up now for free

You can also easily manage donors on the tool, segment them, and add any communication details to their donor records. All this for free!

The Donorbox platform fee for accepting donations through various fundraising tools starts at a nominal rate of 1.75%. But it can be reduced to a flat rate of 1.5% across all of our tools when you upgrade to our Pro and Premium plans. There’s also a small processing fee from Stripe or PayPal, that you can ask the donors to cover – 80% of donors usually do so.

how to start a nonprofit organization for free

Donorbox also offers several effective and powerful tools, like Text-to-Give, Events, Peer-to-Peer, Crowdfunding, Memberships, and QuickDonate. Our goal is to help you raise more funds, acquire new donors, and boost your nonprofit’s outreach in the most affordable way possible.

After setting up your Donorbox account, you can ask friends, family, and your board to share your donation page and campaign details with their networks.

4. Assemble Supporters and Create a Team of Passionate Volunteers

As a new nonprofit, you may not have a large pool of supporters, but there are surely people who believe in your cause and mission. They may have even encouraged you to start your nonprofit!

Assemble these supporters and ask them to volunteer. Every one of them should have a specific skill they can use to help your nonprofit thrive! It may be digital design skills – great for building a basic website – as well as marketing or advertising, or even management. If someone has been volunteering with other similar nonprofits, they’ll have a lot of knowledge and strategy-building skills to help you get started and grow. Don’t shy away from asking who can help you with what!

Involve these volunteers in your decisions and strategies. Divide them into specific teams and delegate leadership duties. Keep frequent meetings but be careful to not over-burden anyone. Arrange for basic training by experienced volunteers for those new to the organization. And educate each and every one of them on your mission and vision.

Volunteers are the key to starting a nonprofit with no money. Since you cannot hire staff or experienced fundraisers at the start, they’ll help you get the ball rolling. As they grow with your nonprofit, they’ll also be able to add more value to it. Remember to reward your volunteers and acknowledge all their efforts!

5. Hold Free Events and Online Campaigns

Events and fundraising campaigns remain among the quickest ways to raise funds for your nonprofit. Most new organizations assume they can’t hold an event until they have funds, but it’s actually the opposite. New nonprofits can – and should – hold several events to raise awareness and funds in the beginning.

Here are some great ideas to get started with events and fundraising for free.

Free event ideas

5.1 Restaurant fundraisers

Restaurant fundraisers are a free and easy way to make a few hundred dollars. Many restaurants offer local charities a percentage of the day’s income in exchange for bringing in a crowd. If you can encourage enough people to buy dinner at the restaurant that day, you can bring in hundreds or even a thousand dollars.

Alternatively, you can hold a dinner event in partnership with a local restaurant and sell tickets online. Ticket sales continue to be one of the best ways to raise funds for a charity. With Donorbox, you can create an event page for free and add multiple ticket levels as per your and the restaurant’s pricing strategy for each meal package. Don’t forget to add promo codes for discounted tickets for those who have been helping you thus far!

Both your nonprofit and the restaurant then need to market the event within the community. Encourage your board members and volunteers to spread the word and buy tickets for themselves and family. If the local eatery is already a popular place for people, you can easily raise a lot of money to start your nonprofit.

With Donorbox Events, your purchasers’ details and sold tickets can be managed at the backend. This means you’ll be able to store their basic contact information and get in touch later to thank them and strengthen your relationship with them. Donorbox Events also lets your ticket purchasers make donations from the event ticketing form.

Here’s an example of a themed dinner fundraiser event. You can refer to this for inspiration on building a restaurant fundraiser event page and setting an optimal price for tickets.

Servant Hears' Donorbox Events page for their murder mystery dinner

5.2 Collect change at local stores

Nonprofits can raise a consistent income by collecting spare change from their supporters. Organizations can do this by asking local businesses to add a coin jar next to the register to collect this loose change on their behalf.

You can also deploy one of your team members to explain the mission of your nonprofit to people visiting the store and collect change to start your nonprofit. Or, leave behind small flyers or postards crafted using Canva’s free tools for nonprofits to further explain your mission! When people know what they are supporting, they will be more likely to give.

Free online campaign ideas

5.3 Membership campaigns

Creating a membership program right at the start can help you build relationships with board members, the community, and potential donors. It will also ensure a regular stream of income to your organization, not just for starting up but for continuous growth.

Form a committee to help create a membership package, develop an action plan, recruit new members, and plan out membership perks. Your membership campaign outreach can include board members, friends, and family to begin with, then ask them to spread the word and talk about the benefits your nonprofit provides.

Remember, you’ll need to provide regular updates and impact reports to your members to increase transparency and build trust in your organization!

With Donorbox Memberships, you can offer monthly and annual membership options, add unlimited membership tiers, let your members manage their membership accounts on Donorbox, and track memberships and membership payments in the backend. Here’s an example of a membership campaign by a nonprofit organization that uses Donorbox.

Example of a Membership Program form on Donorbox

Get started with Donorbox

5.4 Peer-to-peer and crowdfunding campaigns

The fastest and easiest way to raise funds for starting your nonprofit is to leverage the power of shareability and your supporters’ networks.


Starting a nonprofit is a big project that requires a significant amount of funds that need to be raised in a limited time. Perfect for crowdfunding! Start a crowdfunding campaign, add your fundraising goal to it, tell your inspiring story behind starting a nonprofit, add social sharing buttons, and promote the campaign. Encourage your community, board members, and other supporters to donate whatever amount they can and share the campaign with their networks to help you raise more money!

With Donorbox, you can easily set up a crowdfunding campaign in minutes and add descriptions, images, and videos to it. Plus, your crowdfunding page will put our powerful donation form to work! Donorbox Crowdfunding also offers effective tools such an updates tab, a donor wall, and a goal thermometer. Check out this example below.

CHaRM crowdfunding page for a new location

Pro tip: Add updates regularly to your crowdfunding campaign. Acknowledge each donation with a virtual donor wall on the page and set up automatic donation receipts. When you show that you care about your donors and what they expect from your campaign, it will be easier to encourage them to share the campaign with their networks.

Peer-to-peer fundraising

Even though you’re just starting out, you’ll likely still have a lot of supporters in your community, including board members, friends, neighbors, and family members. Turn your crowdfunding campaign or any other online fundraising campaign into a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign and boost your donations even further!

The idea is simple: you’ll invite your supporters to fundraise for you. In turn, they’ll create their own fundraising pages and start reaching out to their networks to raise more money. This way, you’ll bring in new donors and expand your reach, without having to send the outreach yourself!

With Donorbox Peer-to-Peer, you can just toggle a switch on an existing or a new campaign to turn it into a peer-to-peer campaign. Inviting them is also easy. Just enter their names and email addresses and Donorbox will send them email invitations. They’ll be guided to create and customize their own fundraising pages and all donations will be credited to your parent campaign.

Here’s an example of a fundraiser raising funds for Maya’s Hope with Donorbox Peer-to-Peer. Plus, here’s the organization’s parent crowdfunding campaign for your reference.

how to start a foundation with no money

Pro tip: Help your peer-to-peer fundraisers bring in more funds by providing constant updates on the original campaign. Give them a toolkit filled with stories, images, or videos they can share on their own pages. Make it easier for them to fundraise, and they’ll be more likely to help you meet your goals!

6. Apply for Community Grants

There are several grants created to benefit local communities, and, as a new nonprofit, you may be exactly what they’re looking for. These grants do not often provide a lot of money, but you don’t need much to start!

There are several types of community grants available from government and corporate sources. Find a local government grant program or company that matches your nonprofit’s mission. Companies like Walmart also offer community grants of $250 to $5,000 for local organizations.

7. Find Fiscal Sponsors

Fiscal sponsors are community foundations, religious organizations, and other nonprofits interested in strengthening their community by supporting new nonprofits like yours. Thanks to a nonprofit organization’s sponsorship, your organization could apply for grants and other tax-deductible donations under their exempt status.

Fiscal sponsors also provide administrative support and oversight to other organizations with a similar mission. Visit the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors to find one that matches your nonprofit’s mission and goals!

8. Form Community Partnerships

Community partnerships are vital to the long-term success of your nonprofit. Organizations can start building these relationships right away.

8.1 Corporations

If you or someone on your board already has a personal connection to a local corporation or business leader, now is the time to let them know you’re starting a nonprofit. See if you can find a company or leader interested in the same mission.

Matching gifts and volunteer days are an excellent way to start these relationships. You can ask the company if they’d like to match donations to your online campaign up to a certain amount (example shown below). Also, ask them to encourage their employees to volunteer for your organization!

AKEDA Matching Gift Campaign

8.2 Media

If you’ve received a community grant or other local nonprofit support to get started, you can use this opportunity to get media promotion. Write and send a press release to your local newspaper when you apply and win a community grant. Explain the connection between both groups. Include a quote from someone within the group you’re receiving assistance from.

Remember to include a link to your donation page or online campaign where readers can give to your organization. Additionally, mention upcoming events and fundraising campaigns. The idea should be to get people excited about your new organization as well as empathize with the cause.

Final Thoughts

It takes a lot of passion and hard work to start a nonprofit, but it doesn’t have to take much money. Starting a nonprofit organization with no money is possible. The steps discussed in this article give you a road map to follow to raise the money and build a loyal supporter base.

Donorbox helps nonprofits get started on the right foot with effective fundraising features and efficient donor management. You can sign up for free and there are no monthly costs involved. Some of our best features include Crowdfunding, Peer-to-Peer, Live Kiosk™, Events, Memberships, customizable Donation Pages, and more.

Once you’ve established your nonprofit, get in touch with us to discover your full donation potential. We’ll help you with an expert fundraising coach, a dedicated account manager, high-performance tools, and a team of tech wizards. This success package called Donorbox Premium comes at a personalized price with affordability in mind for every nonprofit.

Explore the rest of our Donorbox Nonprofit Blog to get additional tips, fundraising ideas, donor management resources, and more. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a curated list of our best resources delivered to your inbox every month!

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Kristine Ensor is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working with local and international nonprofits. As a nonprofit professional she has specialized in fundraising, marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and board development.

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