Building a Nonprofit

Many people have ideas about how to make their communities better. But dreaming is just the start.

By Molly Priddy
Kayla Lindsay, pictured on Nov. 22, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Kayla Lindsay stood on the stage in the former Kalispell Senior Center building and immediately knew that it was the beginning to a new journey in her life, one that would hopefully create lasting change for the Kalispell community.

It had been a lark, visiting the building now that it was up for sale, but as a licensed realtor with an extensive background in theater, Lindsay saw the listing as a potential spot for a future performing arts center in the county’s most populated city.

It would be a place for valley residents of all ages, but especially for kids and teens in Kalispell who need a productive place to go.

“I stood on that little, tiny stage, and I just saw this vision of this space being alive and cathartic and involved and in action,” Lindsay said.

The moment brought her to tears, filling her with inspiration and passion. But beyond that, Lindsay knew she couldn’t just hope for a new performing arts space in her hometown — she had to take action herself.

“The city has been talking about a performing arts center since I was 12,” Lindsay said. “When I was in that space, I decided, ‘We’ve got to make this work.’”

It would take a team to pull it off, and Lindsay knew that would mean building an organization around the idea. Automatically, she said, she knew it would have to be a nonprofit.

Deciding to start a nonprofit as opposed to a for-profit business is one of the first key steps in the journey to developing a new entity, according to Chany Ockert, a Bigfork-based certified fundraising executive assisting nonprofit development.

Having a dream and the passion to make it a reality are necessary, she said, but after that, deciding whether or not to have a for-profit business usually comes down to funding.

A for-profit business gets its revenue from the customer, whereas a nonprofit serves a population while receiving revenue from a different source, such as donations and federal and state grants.

In some cases, it makes sense for a new organization to become a for-profit business, Ockert said, in which case it is referred to the Small Business Development Center – which is the local arm of the federal Small Business Administration office – for the next steps.

In some cases, it makes sense for a new organization to become a for-profit business, Ockert said, in which case it is referred to the local Small Business Administration office for the next steps.

Once an organization decides to go the nonprofit route, there are a few questions to consider before starting, according to the Montana Nonprofit Association. A potential new entity should consider if there is a demonstrated need for the project or service that isn’t being fulfilled elsewhere, and if anyone else is doing it locally, statewide, regionally, or nationally.

There is also a chance that the idea could fold into the existing infrastructure of other organizations already set up.

“We also encourage individuals to talk with other existing nonprofits and see if it is possible for them to be part of another organization,” Ockert said.

Though her nonprofit idea is only a few weeks old, Lindsay said she’s making considerable headway. Plenty of people in the community have the same goal, she said, and have reached out. Making connections and having persistence have been key.

Tentatively, the project is called Kalispell Kaleidoscope Center, and Lindsay has a couple of potential properties she’s exploring, including the Kalispell Senior Center. The next steps are figuring out if she needs to start her own entity or simply resurrect a previous one, then forming a clear vision of what the nonprofit will and won’t do, which she will work on with the assistance of the professionals at Montana West Economic Development.

Kim Morisaki, director of marketing and business development for MWED, said her organization can help with marketing plans, community connections, establishing mentor relationships, among other business-related services.

Then, Lindsay will have to build a board of directors for the organization.

“Because of the privilege of having tax exemption and deduction, there is a requirement for (a nonprofit) to be governed by a set of volunteers, a board of directors,” Ockert said.

The board has the power to hire and fire the nonprofit’s executive director, which Lindsay acknowledges would likely have to be a paid position in her future organization. That would require grant funding, about which she feels confident.

A nonprofit would then go through the steps to incorporation as a 501(c)(3) organization in Montana, which involves considerable paperwork from the state and Internal Revenue Service. A full rundown is available on the Montana Nonprofit Association website.

Lindsay said she knows there’s a market for a performing arts center and programming for kids and teens because of the success of such programs in Whitefish and Bigfork. Adding that to Kalispell would give kids who aren’t interested in church or school activities a place to learn and express themselves.

She believes in her project to the extent that she predicts the center will be active by 2020, hosting monthly productions. So far, building a nonprofit has meant a new balancing act in her life, squaring it with time needed for her career and family.

But already, the journey has been worth it.

“It’s pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I really needed that,” Lindsay said.

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