Our article on starting a nonprofit organization in the United States gets a lot of attention so we thought we’d follow it up with a real life story about starting a nonprofit. We reached out to Daniel and Bryggs because they just went through the process of turning Y’all into a law-abiding nonprofit in the US (and, more specifically, Indiana).
We’re going to let Daniel and Bryggs do most of the talking, but we will say that these two are definitely worth getting to know. Ridiculously kind, open-minded, witty and generous.
Okay, here we go.
I’m Daniel, President of Y’all, Bryggs' neighbour and friend. Family nurse practitioner and midwife. I’ve worked in healthcare for the last 10 years and I’ve been part of Y’all since Bryggs and I decided to start a nonprofit 6 months or so ago.
I’m Bryggs, Vice President of Y’all, Daniel’s neighbour and friend. I work for a sales team at [Company Name] outside of Oakville, ON.
Daniel: Last year, we (Important side note: Daniel and Bryggs live 24 houses apart.) decided to host an event called “Fill All My Bowls” to help cover the costs associated with Bryggs’ transition. (There are a lot of potential costs associated with a transition: name/gender marker change fees, hair care, medications, clothing, etc.)
As we started organizing the event, we realized how much need and support was actually out there. People were really into helping out. We quickly realized that the amount of money we were going to raise would be above and beyond what any individual would need. So, we decided to start a nonprofit. And, Y’all was born.
As a friend, I got a firsthand experience and a sense of the energy shift every time Bryggs had to use their ID, or prove in anyway who they were.
Daniel: Y’all is still very much evolving. We’re casting wide nets and exploring who and what Y’all is. Our main focus was to provide queer and trans individuals with access to community and financial support for services that aren’t covered throughout the state of Indiana. Things like: name changes, wigs, clothes, hair removal, etc.—anything that keeps someone from living their authentic life.
Bryggs: We know, from our own experiences and the experiences of our friends and loved ones that small moments can have a large impact on someone’s well being. These supposedly everyday moments can affect them, the people around them, and their community.
Daniel: We all suffer when queer and trans individuals can’t live their lives to their fullest.
This movement became public the same month we signed our 501(c)(3), and it made what we’re doing seem more important to us. We are a part of the queer and trans community. The laws are affecting our friends and family.
Bryggs: When we first started this, we weren’t even aware of the “slate of hate” laws that were about to be passed.
Indiana is one of the states that has had harmful and hurtful legislation pushed on us. We do our best to follow where our community is guiding us. How we fundraise, how we get our name out there. The events we hold aren’t big money raisers, they unite communities that already exist, support individuals that need it and make people aware that other trans and queer individuals exist and that there are organizations to help them.
Y’all has been doing things backward since day one. We may not be the most perfect example of how to start a nonprofit in the United States. But we did it.
Daniel: It’s wild. We’re just over six months in from when we incorporated at the state level and getting our 501(c)(3). The process moves fast in Indiana.
There are steps you have to complete to become a nonprofit at the state level and to get your 501(c)(3) at the federal level. But there is no one set path.
We had to get incorporated at the state level before our first event. You have 27 months from the time you incorporate to the time you get your 501(c)(3). Within that 27 months, any money you raise falls under the nonprofit umbrella and we wanted the money from our first event to go towards our nonprofit.
The state of Indiana has one of the fastest turnarounds for incorporating. It only took about 48 hours. It was alarmingly quick. Charitable Allies really helped with that. Some (a lot) of the language in the forms is technically English, but it’s hard to tell sometimes.
The 501(c)(3) was another story. It took around a month.
Daniel: When we were getting started we used Charitable Allies. A group of lawyers who help nonprofits get started.
Bryggs: They do what they call “low-bono” work. (It’s not free, but pretty close.)
Daniel: We worked with them (Charitable Allies) to help us with the paperwork, state-side, for a small fee. Charitable Allies has a variety of packages. They can submit or review your paperwork and they stay available for a per-hour fee afterwards. We cannot sing their praises enough. We got approved the first time around thanks to them.
Bryggs: And just knowing that we had them as back up was very helpful.
Daniel: One weird requirement was that a nonprofit needs a President, VP, Secretary and a Treasurer. We all got together and kind of quickly assigned our roles just to get them down on paper. We were pretty grassroots about the whole thing.
I did not ever have Y’all being inside of a church as part of our plan.
Bryggs: We were already vaguely familiar from the get-go of how it would all go.
Daniel: We get questions sometimes on the more business side of things, how our budget works, how much money we make. Right now, we don’t get paid. That has been hard for people to understand. That has been surprising. How to translate who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing for people with a more capitalistic view. It’s hard for them to understand that when we do make money we give that money back.
Bryggs: People seeing Y’all doing stuff for the community has garnered support from surprising places. Our office is in a church. A church! Both Daniel and I have a history with religion and we were not expecting to be back in a church anytime soon. But, we have been welcomed with open arms.
Bryggs: Not that we were told. Maybe it was easier/faster. Apparently getting incorporated in Florida can take up to three months. Indiana has a pretty quick turn around.
Bryggs and Daniel: The whole process cost us around $1000. Including the lawyer fees at Charitable Allies.
Daniel: For me it has been taking our sense of community to another level. Getting the support, praise, love from all kinds of people. Especially the ones you don’t even expect. A lot of people we are partnering with are impacted by the current state of affairs and need the funds and support.
That joy of getting to impact the people I care about and the broader community. People showing up that have never been to a queer event. We’re making an impact already, we haven’t even distributed funds yet. (We’re still working out the legal logistics.)
Bryggs: I’ve really loved working with our team—the group of folks we’ve got (the five of us). They are my friends. My wife is on the board. Another friend we’ve known for a decade and a friend we just made are on the board. All our family and friends continue to show up for us. Getting to watch these worlds collide with each other. Watching my friends and loved ones step into their abilities and what they can do.
Daniel: One surprising example was when the Executive Director of Indy Pride reached out to meet with us. They gave us contacts, added our event to their social media page, answered our questions. They gave us more opportunities to do things than the capacity we had to do them. We really can’t thank them enough.
We’ve seen organizations get so set in their looks, processes and ways. We want to adapt to the world around us. We’re asking people to adapt to us, so it’s only fair that we be willing to meet people where they are at.
Daniel: I would say that there is not necessarily a right way or a direct path to start a nonprofit in the United States. There are the legal steps that you have to take. But, when it comes to having an idea, a passion for something—whatever your starting point is, that’s where you start. If you feel the desire, the need, just start. Put one foot in front of the other and folks will appear to help.
Bryggs: There are so many people who want to help you. What you’re doing, there are so many people who’ve been waiting for it. Be open to the help. Accept it.
Daniel: We had the logistics planned out for our first event: we needed bowls, soup and people to come. Once we had the conceptual idea down, we realized we had to sell tickets—people needed to give us money for this to work. We knew about Eventbrite and other ticketing and event platforms, and thought surely they had a platform for nonprofits. They did not.
A lot of platforms had discounts for nonprofits, but none were free and we really wanted the money people were giving us to have the most impact possible—all our donations, for now, come from individuals, and whatever amount they give is a big deal for them and for us.
Bryggs: In our search, we found Zeffy. We explored it a bit and it said it’s free. We poured over your website… Is Zeffy actually free?
Daniel: We were already behind on our timelines, so Bryggs and I jumped on a demo call, went through everything, and confirmed that it was free.
Bryggs: I think we asked twice just to make sure.
Daniel: So we looked at each other, we had no reason not to believe you, plus we are pro-Canada. And the other thing that was really big for us, most fundraising platforms require you to have a 501(c)(3) status and we didn’t even know if we wanted one at that point. Even though we were incorporated as a nonprofit in Indiana, most platforms required the federal papers.
Zeffy only requires you to be recognized as a nonprofit at any level. And that made a big difference for us.
Bryggs: It helped us know that Zeffy believed in what we were doing and supported us outside of official government stamps.