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How to Start a Nonprofit Organization for At-Risk Youth

author image Richard Nilsen
Richard Nilsen writes poetry, fiction, features and news stories in upstate New York. He was an emergency mental-health consultant for 20 years and directed a mentoring agency for a decade. Nilsen is a black-fly control technician in the Adirondack Park, where he enjoys hiking, biking and boating.
How to Start a Nonprofit Organization for At-Risk Youth
A counselor hugging a girl at a community center. Photo Credit: Lee Celano/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Starting a nonprofit organization for at-risk youth can be a great resource for your community. By doing some basic planning, your organization can greatly benefit your community without you losing sleep or putting anyone further at risk.

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At-risk youth are those referred by schools, counselors or community agencies who are most likely to drop out of school, join a gang or run into trouble with the law.

Step 1

Contact a lawyer and set up a board of directors to apply for a 501(c)(3) not for profit corporation. Each state has slightly different rules, but basically you will need at least three people on the board (preferably a dozen) who volunteer as community oversight and organizers. The board should be a cross section of your community. It's nice to have a banker, lawyer and certified public accountant on the board, but parents, blue-collar workers and other nonprofessionals add depth and often are the backbone of a nonprofit. Make sure of the need for your mission, and that there is not another group already mentoring youth or offering youth-at-risk programming.

Step 2

Set up a financial plan with a certified public accountant for proper reporting of funding. Apply for grants, research fund-raising programs and explain your plan to local civic and church organizations and see what local funding is available for such an organization. Don't neglect meeting with local school administrators to see if your group could provide programming for students with education-backed funding. It is often easier to receive several smaller, local grants than one large state or federal grant. Check with lawyers and banks to see if charitable trusts have been set up to aid youth as well as social work, mental health and corporate community service groups.

Step 3

Advertise and interview staff with social work, education or athletic degrees and experience for the specific mission of your agency. Administration should have a master's level degree and case managers at least a bachelor's degree in social work, mental health or a related area. The executive director or program director should be responsible for a thorough background check on all those who will work directly with the youth. Get letters of reference and talk with former employers. Sometimes a former supervisor will say things about the worker in question the former manager won't put in writing. This is a good place to err on the side of caution.

Step 4

Set up insurance for liability and to protect your board of directors (often called D&O insurance) so they need not ear serving on your board. If transportation of youth or activities off premises will be part of the plan, accident insurance might be a good thing to add. If your state has adequate protection for those serving on a nonprofit board (and most do so), inform potential board members of this for their own peace of mind.

Step 5

Find a site or umbrella organization for your headquarters and let local counselors and educators know of your mission. There should be no lack of people referred for a well-planned youth-at-risk organization that will help improve the quality of tomorrow's adults.

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