Start a Community Based Non Profit Organization

by JC Mcovney
(Uriah, AL)

Visitor Question: Is an organization limited to one scope?

I want our community to have a day care for single and working parents, a land bank (not sure if I'm using the right lingo here) a creative space for children and adults, a recreational space, a place where neighbors can teach each other things, financial literacy counseling, and a place for our sheriff Department and EMS to have a satellite office. I have other ideas as well, like a library.

The location I have in mind is a shuttered factory. My town has one gas station, a K-12 school, volunteer fire dept, water board, and a post office. Immediate employment outside of government (school & post office) is the gas station, dollar store, and seasonal work at the cotton gin. (Also there is farming.)

I guess my second question is, well really not a question. Anyone see how the private sector might give the community the service I intend to provide?

Also, is this a good place to start?

https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/community-facilities-direct-loan-grant-program/al

Editors Reply: Turning an abandoned factory into a community service center is such a noble goal. It makes sense for a very small town where there are probably few buildings for rent, and probably not enough services to meet local needs.

No, an organization is not limited to one scope; all the things you listed could commonly be grouped together into the mission of one community-based organization.

As you move further with your plans, the important thing is to begin to share your dream with others. Start with family and your personal friends, and then follow the trail of referrals to friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends. Talk to your local leaders, whether they be governmental, faith, or business leaders or store managers.

You have identified an excellent potential source of funds, which is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's community facilities direct loan program. Note that at the bottom of the web page you cited, you can follow the link to find your Alabama representative of the program. It's worth a trip to your state capital to meet that individual and talk two-way, as you obtain much valuable information about whether that particular funding source is feasible. (You also begin to impress that person with your energy and determination.) Some government programs are "on the books" and described on the web, but the reality might be that there is no funding available right now, meaning Congress has not appropriated any money or enough money. Let's hope for the best though.

Often the funding source governs the uses of the building, so we would expect that if you find that the USDA program is viable for your project, the rules of that program will begin to show you which, if any, of your proposed uses would not be allowed. We think most, if not all, would be permitted.

Also prepare yourself for the fact that often multiple sources of funding are needed, even for what most people would think is the comparatively simple project of acquiring and renovating the building. So be ready for a long, complicated journey toward having a building available to fill with all those great community uses you cite.

You have to work along multiple tracks at the same time though--your proposed list of tenants will interact with building renovation, and at the same time you have to be figuring out who is going to own and operate the building, and who is going to choose and enlist programs, as well as manage the building.

Now let's talk about your proposed list of uses. Day care is great (although possibly you have to find a way around the problem of having it be a for-profit business), EMT and Sheriff satellite office are great, and a branch library probably would work fine. For GED, enrichment, and financial literacy classes, you could just describe them generally as classrooms and meeting rooms when working on loan or grant proposals. Arts and recreation programs may work but you may just have to be vague about your need for open floor community spaces, which can double as large community meeting rooms.

We're not sure about your use of the term land bank either. A land bank is an arm of a government that holds a large volume of land for development purposes. In declining cities, a land bank may simply hold all of the land forfeited for non-payment of taxes. We don't know how this might apply to your situation. You also might be thinking of a land trust, which is an entity that holds land on behalf of another person, often for purposes of conservation or sometimes for purposes of keeping housing costs low by minimizing appreciation of property values.

Since you have some agriculture nearby, you may want to conduct some community agriculture outside the facility in the form of a giant community garden (or even make a courtyard or atrium inside the building for growing high-value crops, if your factory is too large to use all the space). Also if your funding permits, you might try some value-added agriculture, where you prepare an industrial kitchen that meets health requirements for preparing jams and jellies, salsa, chow chow, or what have you for sale, but which can be rented by the hour. Setting up and supporting some entrepreneurship programs would be a good use, and small communities often have an abundant supply of good cooks.

You have several choices for the type of operation you set up. Sometimes two separate groups develop the space and then administer it, but in a smaller town, that is too confusing. So realistically your options are to:

1. Set up a non-profit organization (refer to our community development corporation (CDC) page shown below for ideas about setting it up, even though CDCs are usually in urban areas)

2. Find an existing non-profit to do this project. This is far easier, because setting up the non-profit is a fair amount of work in itself. But you may not find an appropriate existing non-profit, and if you do, they may resist expanding their current mission.

3. Get your local government to do this project. This may be a long shot as I see that your town is an unincorporated place. Local government-led projects have their pitfalls, including the need for transparency and accepting the lowest bid, and susceptibility to political pressure, but sometimes in very small places willing to set up a special citizen committee or commission to oversee the project, this will work.

You will need much additional advice as you go along. Remember to build yourself as strong a team of allies as you can. Then use our website liberally to help with specific types of concerns.

The website doesn't like it when we have more than one active link on these types of pages, so we will just list the more obvious pages of our site that may help you:

www.useful-community-development.org/start-a-community-development-corporation.html
www.useful-community-development.org/community-organizations.html
www.useful-community-development.org/nonprofit-board-development.html
www.useful-community-development.org/abandoned-factories.html
www.useful-community-development.org/how-to-fundraise.html

Good luck!


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