Tips for Starting an Environmentally Focused Nonprofit Organization

Perhaps starting a nonprofit organization has been a dream of yours for a long time, or perhaps it has only recently become a goal. Wherever you are on the journey towards creating a new nonprofit, there’s plenty to think through and plan out before your organization becomes a reality.

And if a core focus of yours is to create an entity that is environmentally focused, that comes with it a full set of considerations that are important to give some thought to as you begin. Here are a few tips about how to create a nonprofit organization with a strong environmental bent.

Benefits of Making Your Organization Environmentally Focused

No matter what type of nonprofit you plan to start, it can be made into an environmentally friendly operation. A prevailing misconception amongst nonprofit founders and management says that if your organization is not of a specific type or designed within a specific subset like water distribution or agricultural products, environmental concerns aren’t really important. This is far from reality.

Any organization can operate in ways that are either environmentally friendly or not, and every aspect of an operation can be evaluated and made more environmentally focused with a bit of effort and creativity. From chemical usage to logistical processes, hygiene, supplies, and just about every other aspect of an operation, any organization can be designed to be environmentally focused.

Tip One: Understand Your Why’s and How’s

Not every environmentally focused endeavor is created equal. Plenty of buzzwords and popular initiatives get thrown around in today’s mainstream and nonprofit worlds. However, players or campaigns in the environmentalism scene can sometimes prove to be disappointingly shallow, temporary, or problematic.

An important key to building environmentally focused organizations or initiatives that will last is doing your homework. Make sure you dive deep into the area of emphasis or focus you plan to affect or improve. Take ocean pollution as an example. Don’t be content with building your entire nonprofit around a couple pictures swiped from National Geographic.

What is the history of that phenomenon? What has been done in the past? What is being done now? How have previous efforts worked? Have they been successful or have they caused new problems? What adjacent ecological systems are affected by the same or similar issues, and is there a way that interventions can be designed to help or alleviate those problems as well?

It takes a deep understanding of a problem to be able to solve it effectively. Don’t succumb to the temptation to jump on the latest environmental bandwagon, or to cut corners on designing your improvement strategy. Plans that aren’t well thought through will not only hurt your nonprofit but the environment in the long run, and can also ostracize your prospective customers, partners, members, and/or volunteers who will see right through them.

Another area that deserves thorough thought and planning is your “why.” Depending on the particulars of your process and passions, this may be the first item you should think through. It’s important to have your motivation robust enough to get you through the press conferences, difficult days or weeks or months, staff hiring and firing, successes and failures, funds coming in and funds falling short.

Your reason for doing what you are doing needs to be well-articulated and thoughtful. Naysayers may try to pick it apart. Trends will come and go. Make sure you know your motivation and that it is strong enough to weather the ups and downs.

Tip Two: Design Multiple Ways for People to Support Your Nonprofit

Many organizations make the (often unintentional) mistake of limiting ways people can get involved. This too often results in people who would have been interested in supporting the mission walking away without finding an opportunity to do so.

If your nonprofit needs support from others — and this will most assuredly be the case - it’s important to prioritize creating clear channels for interested people and connections to get involved. This may look like being able to donate monetarily, volunteer their time, invite friends and family to exposure and awareness events, share or post things on their social media, or engage in even more creative methods of support. Could you incorporate an affiliate program? Merchandise sales? Loyalty cards? NFTs? The sky (and your creativity) is the limit.

And while imagining high-tech offerings your nonprofit could incorporate, don’t forget that a significant portion of your eventual volunteer force or donor base may actually prefer low-tech means of communication.

Mailings, newspaper articles, and paper checks from real, brick-and-mortar banks are still alive and well for some demographics even if they aren’t the norm in mainstream arenas. Listen to your stakeholders — you might sometimes be surprised at what you hear.

Tip Three: Work Out the Business Case

As you embark on beginning an environmentally focused organization, having an altruistic or philanthropic reason for what you’re doing is valuable. However, people are motivated in a variety of different ways. Not everyone wants to save the ice caps because they think polar bears are cute.

Approaching the motivation for your mission from different angles to appeal to different thinkers can be hugely important to your success. Environmentally friendly operations aren’t just esoterically good. They can be fiscally, morally, and logistically beneficial, especially in the long run.

Learn how to speak the languages of different types of stakeholders so that you can communicate the value of what you’re doing effectively, no matter who you’re talking to.

Tip Four: Keep Learning

Finally: you’re up and running. You’ve launched, incorporated, earned charitable status, or enlisted your first supporters. You’ve done it, right? You’re off to the races? No more surprises? Actually, this kind of mindset can set you up for stagnation and failure. It’s hugely important to remain a constant learner.

Engage with other nonprofit directors and founders in the space you’re in. Do regular surveys of your support base and stakeholders. Take on new responsibilities and challenges. Seek out people with altering opinions or strategies and work to understand their point of view.

Staying agile and constantly learning as you undertake this journey will help you continue to grow, refine, and evolve your nonprofit organization to continually be more effective and efficient. The environment deserves our best both in the short-term and for the long haul.