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Mind Your Money: Expert Tips For This Memphis Retiree On Starting A Non-Profit

After retiring from working in government this 50-year-old wants to help domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.

Name: Cherree B.

Age: 50

Occupation: retiree

Moneyshift: Retired recently from working more than 30 years in government and is thinking about her next move

Goal: Starting a non-profit to help domestic violence and sexual assault survivors

Cherree B., 50, is ready for her next act. After graduating high school, the Memphian started working for the county government, earning $6.90 per hour when the minimum wage was $3.35. 

“I’m was balling,” she said. “I’m 18 making double  what everyone else is making!”

For the next 31 years, she worked her way up the ranks, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She eventually moved into upper management, working as the finance administrator for the general sessions court.  “I was good at what I did, and I enjoyed it,” she said.

She tried her hand at politics by running for a local sessions court clerk in 2020, a position she’d been eyeing for a while. She came in sixth place in the crowded race. Although she technically wasn’t asked to leave her position, instinctively, she knew it was time. 

“Because my salary was so high and I was “up there,” I felt like I was going to be a target,” says Cherree, who earned $102,000 annually when she retired at age 49.

She soon learned that she wasn’t good at retirement. She spent her days exercising, going to stores, and not even buying anything, even though she has a pension. 

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“This is me at 70 and not 49,” she said. “I had to get up and do something.” Within four months, she secured a job as an associate executive director at a legal aid non-profit, earning $70,000 per year. 

At this job, Cheree, a domestic violence survivor, realizes what she wants to focus on next: starting a non-profit to help other domestic violence survivors. Her organization offers legal assistance in areas such as divorce, immigration, child custody, and elder law abuse.

One day at work, she accompanied the team to a home where there were survivors of abuse and shared with them her journey of surviving abuse. A few of the women who didn’t seem to be paying attention to her before, started lifting their heads and looking at her directly.

"I felt a connection with them," she says.

She says abuse victims need to speak to other people who can relate to the struggle. So many times, they need someone who even knows HOW to listen to them. Even when well-meaning people ask, "Why did you take that?" it comes across as judgmental, she said.

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"That's like being slapped all over again," she said. "That's like saying you're stupid because you stayed. You can't really make a person understand why you stayed."

For the next chapter, Cheree is all about giving back, hopefully to women and children facing a battle that she has faced.  "You have a voice, and you need to use it," is what she tells herself, but she doesn't know where to start. 

The Heart of Helping

People often ask Rick Cohen, chief communications and chief operations officer at the National Council of Nonprofits, how to start a non-profit. His organization cautions the public about the industry. There are 1.4 million non-profits in the country, and there are often multiple non-profits founded to do the same thing, Cohen said.

"Organizations are competing for very scarce resources, and there's also infrastructure that needs to be in place to run a non-profit," Cohen said.

Non-profits need a board of directors and filings to start organizations and be incorporated. In addition, you must file at the federal level with the IRS, and there's almost always a state or additional local registration needed, Cohen said. You must file tax forms annually.

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Cohen advises before going out on your own; you should work with an existing organization. Check to see if they work in a particular geographic area or if there's space to expand the focus. "Those are great ways to kind of go and do the same work helping others but without needing to build additional infrastructure on your own," he said.

Non-profits are the third largest employer (10 million people)  in America, but the pay isn't often competitive, particularly in this economy. Many are dependent on government contracts for funding. It may be hard to get employees, he said.

"It's difficult for us to raise prices the way that McDonald's and Target can raise prices," he said.

However, if someone truly wants to start a non-profit, consult with an attorney or an organization such as Harbor Compliance to ensure you are doing all the filings needed. For instance, in some states, you have to register in their state and file an annual report simply for having a "donate now" button on your website.

"You want to make sure you are doing everything right so that you don't run into penalties down the road, which would take away the resources from trying to help people," Cohen said."  It's better to do it right from the beginning rather than having to worry about diverting resources to pay penalties when all those resources need to be going into the community."

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