Talk:How to Start a Free Geek
And away we go...
Create an organization name and mission statement. See FREE GEEK Principles for rules on the use the the name FREE GEEK. FREE GEEK's mission statement reads: "FREE GEEK is a non-profit organization that recycles used technology and provides computers, education, job skills training and access to the internet to those in need in exchange for community service".
You most likely want to become a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. The first step is to register as a non-profit corporation in your State (There should be a form for Articles of Incorporation that you can download). This costs $25 in Oregon, your state should be similar.
- Important Note:*
At this point you should consider the type of non-profit you want to form. When Free Geek started, we decided early on to be a "non-membership" organization. That means there are no requirements for membership and the Board of Directors elects itself. This is contrary to the requirement in the Free Geek Fair Use Principles: "be democratically run in a non-hierarchical way that is open and transparent to all participants in its programs." in our particular situation we have taken several steps to modify our Bylaws and have adopted Concensus decision making in place of voting. Now, the reason we did what we did was both for expedience and lack of knowledge about the options. You might consider being a "membership" organization that has requirements to be a member and the membership elects the board. This will simplify the process of becoming fully democratic. Please research these options before proceding, as it is diffucult to change after the fact. While we feel that going the "membership" route is probably best, we actually have no experience with it.
Next, form a board of directors, each state has different rules as to the minimum required. Oregon is two (President and Secretary). The board of directors is the legally and fiscally responsible body. Treat this step seriously, future funders will want to be confident that your organization has good board oversite.
Here is a copy of the Free Geek Bylaws. Please feel free to adapt it for your use. The first action of the new board is to adopt the Bylaws. You are now officially on your way.
At this point, those organizations that wish to be come an official FREE GEEK operation need to pay close attention. The second action of the Board of Directors should be to adopt a concensus model for all decisions, superceding the vote based system described in the Bylaws. Next, using your new concensus decision making process, adopt a democratic and non-heirarchical structure for community, volunteer and staff involvement in operational practices. This is needed to ensure that all who are truely interested have a voice in the discussions about the direction of the organization.
The next step is to file for 501(c)(3)tax exempt status with the IRS. It costs around $250 for small non-profits. This can take anywhere from 6 weeks to a year. Helpful hint: If you can find an attorney to either serve on your board or offer pro bono legal services, they can really help move the process along. Having your information sent to the IRS under official letterhead from your "attorney" really helps with the legitimacy of your application attempt. Check out the Internent Nonprofit Center , a huge resource of information.
When you get approved by the IRS, your "official" starting date for your non-profit back dates to the date of Incorporation or the beginning of the calendar year with ever comes last.
There is a legal instrument that is called Fiscal Sponsorship, that allows other non-profits in your state to put your new organization under their umbrella of tax-exempt status. This allows you to provide tax reciepts prior to obtaining tax-exempt status yourself. This is not a great option, as it is very complicated for you and the covering organization and if done incorrectly, can put your 501(c)(3) application and the tax-exempt status of the sponsoring organization at risk.