OK, so now what do we do?

Ever had a “now what” moment?

You know, that point when you reach a goal you never expected to? Maybe you climbed a mountain, won an award, or survived to see another day?

I just did.

It happened earlier this week when a letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) landed in my mailbox.

“We’re pleased to tell you we determined you’re exempt from federal income tax under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 501(c)(3),” it said. “Donors can deduct contributions they make to you under IRC code 170.”

The government had approved the tax-exempt status of our new nonprofit organization. If that’s not a mandate to empower consumers to solve their problems and help those who can’t, I don’t know what is. (By the way, you can support this fledgling nonprofit during our spring fundraiser. Here’s how.)

So … now what?

Never expected to be here

Is this is what the greyhound feels like when he catches the mechanical rabbit? I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think we’d ever get this far. The repeated hacks, denial-of-service-attacks, lawsuits, and the implosion of the newspaper industry on which I depend for cases, made this a real “Mission: Impossible.” Even if we survived, I wasn’t sure if the IRS would approve our tax-exempt status.

But you had other plans, my friends. You faithfully supported this advocacy site through fundraisers, crises, and hard times. You read the stories, commented, “liked” and wrote supportive letters to my editors, urging them to keep the advocacy columns in your favorite newspaper. For all that, I am exceedingly grateful.

I was floored by how quickly the IRS approved our 501(c)(3) filing. It felt as if my team of advocates had received the government’s blessing to do what we were put on this earth to do: help you.

Now what?

So there I was, on a Wednesday morning, a little shell-shocked by the news that we were a nonprofit. I reached for my phone and called my friend Charlie Leocha, with whom I started two other nonprofit organizations in the past.

“What do I do?” I asked him.

“Start raising money,” he replied.

I told him about the spring fundraiser, now underway.

A good start, he said. But you’ll need more.

Until now, I’ve self-funded the advocacy work you see on my site. That means I took all the proceeds from my columns and ad revenues from the site and paid for everything from my bank account. I’m fortunate to work with volunteers who help advocate, edit, moderate, research, and write. But the operational costs are significant and growing.

Charlie was right. I needed to raise lots of money to turn this into a full-fledged consumer advocacy organization.

Raising funds together

Then I called our executive director, Michelle Friedman. We talked about next steps. If we meet our spring fundraising goal, we’ll have enough to cover some basic expenses. But to build this into a truly effective, world-class advocacy organization, we’ll need to start fundraising now.

We’ll need large donors with the resources to turn this into an organization that can help anyone who needs it. And that means we have to find people with grant-writing and fundraising experience who share our vision for this nonprofit organization.

So that’s what we’re going to do next. We’ll start knocking on doors — beginning with yours.

This spring fundraiser is the most important one ever. No exaggeration. It will help us cover the most basic expenses and get us up and running as a nonprofit organization. Beyond that lies a bright future, with a well-organized, highly-effective consumer organization that helps you 24/7. But we can’t reach that future without your help now.

Please consider becoming a supporter now.

This week’s columns

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Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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