Five Alternatives to Starting a Nonprofit

By Caitlin S. RSS Tue, April 13, 2021

Are you thinking about starting a nonprofit organization? In the Regional Foundation Center (RFC), the Free Library’s resource center for nonprofits, we see lots of folks who are committed to helping their community and want to give back.

Often, many people’s first thought is, "I can start a nonprofit to solve [fill in the blank issue]." But you need more than an idea and passion to start a nonprofit. The Philadelphia area has over 15,000 nonprofits. Talk about competition! Instead of competing for limited funding, resources, and support, RFC staff identified five ways you can support your community without starting a nonprofit.

  1. Work for a Nonprofit Organization
    Many people love the idea of starting a nonprofit but they may not have experience working in the sector. Gain experience working for a nonprofit and get a better sense of the sector’s strengths and weaknesses while improving your skills (bonus: you get a paycheck!). Not sure where to start? Check out job sites specifically for nonprofit jobs like Idealist and Generocity. If you need to spruce up your resume or want guidance on the career that’s best for you, check out the Free Library’s resources for job seekers.
  2. Volunteer
    Research organizations that are doing work in the community or with the population you think are in the most need. Not only are you helping out an existing organization, but you are also giving back in a hands-on way. Plus, it will give you a sense of the work that is currently being done to address the needs of the community. Not sure where to start? Check out the Free Library’s Volunteer Office to learn more about volunteer opportunities. Some other great resources: Mayor’s Office of City Engagement and Volunteer Service, Volunteering Untapped, Idealist, and Volunteer Match. [Note: these days, many volunteer opportunities may be virtual.]
  3. Work with a Fiscal Sponsor
    Starting a nonprofit is not for the faint of heart. If navigating tax forms, board meetings, and financial statements seems overwhelming, tap into an existing network for support. Working with a fiscal sponsor means forming a legal relationship with an existing nonprofit in order to seek grants and donations using the fiscal sponsor’s tax-exempt status. Plus you’ll have access to back-office support. Curious about fiscal sponsorship? Check out the Urban Affairs Coalition, a local organization that serves as a fiscal sponsor. You can also use GuideStar to research organizations that are aligned with your mission and see if they would serve as a fiscal sponsor. Learn more about fiscal sponsors on Candid Learning or attend our Fiscal Sponsorship 101 workshop on April 27.
  4. Serve on a Nonprofit Board
    Become a leader in your community by serving on the board of a local nonprofit. Not only will you be supporting an organization's mission by sharing your expertise, skills, and passion, you will also gain leadership skills and expand your network.  Before serving on a board, make sure you do your research and understand the roles and responsibilities of board members to determine if serving on a board is right for you. If you are a young professional interested in board service, check out Young Involved Philadelphia’s Board Prep Program.
  5. Explore Social Enterprises and B-Corps
    You don’t have to be a nonprofit organization to do good in your community. In the past few years, we have seen many businesses strive to make a positive impact on their local and global communities. Depending on your venture, it may make sense to start a business with a social mission. A couple of big-name examples are Toms and Warby Parker. Both companies donate products whenever a customer makes a purchase. Some local examples include United By Blue and Saxbys. Social enterprises may also focus on the environment, volunteerism, and transparency. Not sure where to start? Check out The Social Entrepreneur's Handbook and The B-Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good from our catalog. Be sure to also check out the list of local B-Corps for inspiration!

The RFC is hosting two workshops in April for individuals thinking about starting a nonprofit. Join us on April 20 for Is Starting a Nonprofit Right For You?, where we will discuss the legal and logistical elements necessary to start a successful nonprofit. That session will be followed by Fiscal Sponsorship 101 on April 27, presented by Tivoni Devor of the Urban Affairs Coalition. This workshop is your opportunity to learn about an efficient alternative to getting your own 501(c)3 status.

Have questions or need additional resources? Get in touch with the RFC at nonprofit @ and a librarian will be happy to assist you!

Have a question for Free Library staff? Please submit it to our Ask a Librarian page and receive a response within two business days.

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