Every organization needs a strong foundation in order to see their mission and vision through. From the outset, we recognized the importance of establishing the core values on which we could build a solid, principled non-profit corporation. While it’s much more enjoyable to focus on inspirational thoughts, there are the everyday administrative duties and red tape we have to cut our way through to in order to help others. As I sit at my desk in my home office, I’m surrounded by piles of forms and hundreds of pages of supporting documents that I’ve been working on this week. In moments like these, it's important for us to reflect upon our core values, especially, perseverance and commitment. From drafting by-laws to filing IRS and Attorney General forms, we must remember that this is all part of the process. It’s not all warm and fuzzy, like providing a family with Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s necessary in order to, in the words of Gandhi, “be the change we wish to see in the world.”
When working on our application for 501(c)3 charity status, we couldn’t wait to be finished. The form itself is 30 pages, the instructions are 80 pages, plus 2,500 words written, and 45 pages of corporate documentation. (Here’s proof that an English degree is valuable!) It felt so good to finally assemble all of the documents and drop our application in the mail. Over a month of research, drafts, and proofreading had finally paid off! But then, came the waiting, which felt like an eternity (less than two months in reality). There are three possible IRS rulings for nonprofit tax exemption applications: approval, denial, or request for more documentation, which can result in delays up to a year! Unless you’ve worked in the nonprofit sector, most people, including us, aren’t familiar with just how important obtaining 501(c)3 status is for a charity. Basically, if we weren’t granted tax exempt status and our donors weren’t able to deduct their donations when filing their taxes, we would have been finished before we even started.
I’m not one to sit around twiddling my thumbs, so I called the IRS several times checking to see where our application was in the process. I figured we’d earned my right to be bothersome. It usually takes around six months to receive a ruling and declaration letter; however, when I called after just over a month, the agent I spoke with told me a determination had been made! She could see that our application had been passed along to a supervisor for further review but couldn’t tell me the ruling! I was even more disappointed when she informed me that upon review our declaration could be approved, rejected, or put back into the pool of hundreds of applications, which could prolong the process for months. I was excited that a decision had been made so quickly but hated the thought of being in nonprofit purgatory for up to nine months! However, it was possible to know something within a month or two. My impatience got the better of me, so I called back a week later. And, it paid off! I found out our 501(c)3 charitable organization status was approved in less than two months, which is practically unheard of! We literally jumped for joy!
When I start to overly obsess over the small stuff and spend too much time trying to make sure everything is done perfectly, I remember some words of wisdom we received early on, “Just remember that at the end of the day, you’re doing a good thing. Don’t be overly concerned with filing all of your forms before it’s necessary.” I’ve never liked to live on the edge, but this is wonderful advice when your to-do list is longer than the hours in the day. Starting a nonprofit from the ground up is challenging; however, there is a joy in it that I haven’t found in any other career. I get to work every day on something that I believe in, that I am passionate about, that is going help millions of people! We just have to keep your eyes on our mission and vision, never losing sight of the reason why we started in the first place. We’re fighting for the day when no American goes hungry, and although the road gets rocky, we refuse to give up this fight. With every victory, we’re that much closer to winning the war against hunger in America.