Will you fill a need in the community?

All nonprofit organizations require a clear and specific purpose. Sometimes called a mission statement, the IRS calls it the organization’s primary purpose. This purpose guides all activities for the lifespan of the organization.

When developing your primary purpose, it’s important to think about the community you intend to aid. Are there other nonprofits that cater to that community and offer similar services? If so, that’s ok, but determine what will make your organization different. Find ways to add value where other organizations might fall short. Once you have a primary purpose, it’s vital to ensure it is specific and focused.

For example, an organization may want to provide classroom libraries to teachers. That is a clear and focused purpose. However, say the same organization also wanted to prevent deforestation. While a specific and focused purpose in its own right, providing books and preventing deforestation would be a challenging prospect for a single organization. When defining the purpose, focus on the primary need your organization will fulfill.

All of a nonprofit organization’s activities, services, and programs must fully align with its purpose and serve a charitable class of people. For the IRS, charitable classes typically refer to youth (children under the age of 18), elderly (people older than 62), homeless, those with low-income or living below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line, people with a terminal or other debilitating illness, veterans, or active-duty military.

Further, all 501c3 nonprofit organizations require a primary purpose that aligns with the IRS requirements. Here is what the IRS defines as an exempt purpose, from their website:

The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.

Once you’ve defined your organization’s primary purpose, use it to weigh all decisions in the future. For example, when developing programming, job descriptions, or considering expenses, ask yourself, “Does this help fulfill our purpose?” If the answer is yes, fantastic! You’re on track. If the answer is no, you may want to reconsider that program, position, or expense.

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