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Should You Start a Nonprofit in High School?

Youth Voices

September 25, 2023

Many high school students believe starting a nonprofit will help their college applications stick out, but whether students should start their own organization depends on a plethora of factors and is far from necessary to get into a good college. If students decide to start a nonprofit solely for their benefit and the possibility that they could get into an elite university, their efforts may not hold as much value.

Passion & Dedication

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Putting together a plan to start an organization and maintain it requires an immense amount of passion and dedication. Many high schoolers who aspire to start their own initiative have a vision and lofty goals, but narrowing their focus proves to be a major challenge. Starting a timeline and keeping up with it is crucial for the success of an organization. If students have too many other extracurricular commitments or cannot manage their time well, running a nonprofit won't be sustainable for them in the future.

Students should be eager to collaborate with others and pivot when faced with obstacles. Not only are they responsible for creating their nonprofit, they have to keep multiple elements--such as a website or social media account--up and running by appointing a team. Using strong leadership skills to get projects completed enables a team of high school students to further their goals.

If students are no longer dedicated and passionate, they will procrastinate and let their timeline fall apart. When managing operations gets tougher, high schoolers hoping to start a nonprofit should prepare themselves to continue working.

Paperwork and Finances

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The first avenue students could pursue to start an organization is through school, where high schoolers can start a club that may branch out into its own website. All students need is a social media account to spread the news of their new club and a staff sponsor. Filing for nonprofit status is more complicated, and it can involve hiring lawyers as well as obtaining various kinds of legal certification. This article covers the rudimentary procedure for those living in the United States.

First, depending on the kind of nonprofit the student plans on starting, they need to register their organization in the state they want to incorporate it in. An organization called the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) has more information about how to do that.

Then, students must complete a variety of forms from the IRS, such as IRS Form 1023. Other forms are involved, but I won't go too much further in depth.

After the long and tedious process is done, they need to open a bank account and apply for tax-exempt status. From that point, students should research what other steps must be taken for their nonprofit to obtain its status (where the lawyers and tax specialists come in).

Getting involved in this process may not be sustainable from an economic standpoint: starting and maintaining a 501c3 nonprofit can cost anywhere from 2,500-5,000 USD, according to Forbes. The certification can provide some tax benefits and other advantages in the corporate world. Students should keep this in mind when considering the pros and cons of getting their organization a nonprofit status.

Personal Experiences

As a high school student who helped found and is running an international literary publication called Sonderful Writings, I am still unsure whether our organization will file for nonprofit status. While having nonprofit status does increase the reputability and reliability of an organization, it shouldn't be a student's main goal when pursuing an initiative.

My friend and I started our organization to combat a setback we faced as teen writers who were rejected from many literary publications before learning how to submit stories and edit our work. We found the submitting process to be both discouraging and frustrating after we received minimal support and multiple form rejections. Now that we know how to navigate the literary world, starting our publication to empower emerging writers so they can get a foothold remains an important cause for us.

If you are interested in starting your own nonprofit or other kind of organization, it's crucial that you are working towards a goal that you are willing to spend a lot of time expanding and changing. Starting from the grassroots level is difficult, and before starting a nonprofit, you should consider whether you have the time available to commit to your cause and form strong bonds with members of your leadership team.

From my experience, maintaining transparency and motivation throughout the early months is one of the most essential stepping stones for launching a nonprofit.

So, What Should Students Pursue?

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Colleges seek students who are involved in initiatives they truly enjoy and believe will help others. High schoolers shouldn't found a nonprofit just to get into what they view as a 'good' college. It is notable to mention there are various organizations in existence which students can be a part of and make a tangible difference.

Joining pre-existing initiatives is important in the grand scheme of things, because nonprofits expand their platforms through outreach and can then enact more powerful change. Students can also get involved in advocacy through social media opportunities, schoolwide goals, and community events.

However, if students wish to found a nonprofit and are passionate about the cause they are advocating for, they should take the leap and challenge themselves to meet their goals.

Anshi Purohit
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Anshi Purohit is a high school student from Maryland, USA. She is passionate about mental health and strives to help others in any way she can. When she is not reading or writing, you can find her cuddling with her dog, playing viola, or going on hikes.