Six Considerations Before Starting Your Own Charity

You’re passionate and want to share your time, talent and treasure to make a positive impact and starting a new charity might seem like the most effective way. But have you done all of your research?

Here is a list of questions and considerations that I shared with a former colleague to ponder before applying for charitable status:

  • What other charities perform the same functions that you want to offer?
    There are 85,000 charities in Canada. Have you done an environmental scan to see what charitable offerings are available in the same neighborhood or sector? What does the government provide in this space and where are the gaps? Just like the private sector, check out your competitors or, in charity speak, your fellow travellers.
  • Who is your client? What is the outcome?
    Be specific about who you’re trying to help and the impact that you’re trying to achieve. Like marketing, what clients are you targeting? One size does not fit all in the charitable sector. A good starting point to measure impact are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 167 indicators to ensure that “no one gets left behind.”
  • Administrative Overhead – yep this issue, but not the way you know it.
    It isn’t generally one’s charity overhead that’s the problem, it’s the multiplicity of overheads by several charities serving the same client. A similar program is the problem.
  • Can you build your offering alongside another charity?
    These are normally vulnerable populations who have to navigate the charitable sector while looking for support. As a Foundation, I prefer to see charities and services wrapping around a client and not the other way around.
  • Colonial Philanthropy
    I owe this term to Natan Oved at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which means funders and/or charities imposing their worldview on their clients. While it is a reference to the treatment of Indigenous people by some philanthropists, I also think it applies to funders and charities generally imposing their view of what the client “should” do to alleviate their condition(s).Sometimes donors tell me what they want to fund, which may not be what a client needs. The saddest thing in philanthropy is an unused program, so hear from the people who you think will use this service or have lived experience. Include clients’ priorities and needs for success like you would in a focus group.
  • Vanity Charity 
    How long do you plan to run this charity? 5 years? 10 years? In that time will you be diverting support from backbone charities to support your own preferences only to end your offering because you’re exhausted? Of the 85,000 registered charities, 8% are inactive. Who are you really doing this for? I know this isn’t an easy question to answer.

At Community Foundations we assist individuals, families, businesses and friends develop their own philanthropic journey. We know what programs and services are offered in the local community. We also know what charities are doing a great job and where the gaps are.

We work with donors and charities to realize new programs and new results. We also assist donors in setting up short and long term funds to support their programs and favourite charities. So please, we know your intentions are good, but take a moment to consider these questions, or ask one of Canada’s 191 Community Foundations how you can best help before you apply for your charity registration number.