When is an org not an org?
Let's say you've got a website, and a thriving, busy e-mail list with several hundred members and lots of posting. Listmembers often write letters to the editor of their local paper, and as well as their legislators. It's still not an org.
Your URL may say dot org, but that's as far as it goes. To have an actual organization, you need to have something offline--a group with elected leadership, regular meetings, and all that. E-mail, chats, and even videoconferencing can only cover part of the kind of structure you need to make it all real. Only about half of the population of the United States is online, and the percentage is less for other countries. So to be as effective as possible in your particular activism project, you need to get offline and organize.
For most people, the Internet is not yet accepted as a viable entity when it comes to social activism groups. While it will happen one day, it's not yet a reality. Too, some directories and search engines now also want a physical address in some cases to go along with a website. A PO Box is OK, for this purpose.
But first, you need to sit down--either virtually or in person--with key group members and decide the focus of the org. Right now there are dozens, if not hundreds of little groups with no organization and no focus, and just as many good activism projects that are the most important thing in the world to the people involved. Unfortunately, to some of those spearheading particular efforts, those who won't get on their personal bandwagon are seen somehow as 'the enemy.' This is wrong, and ultimately destructive for all involved. When we got rolling on the DV Media project in September, we approached a few orgs who chose not to participate, because it wasn't really their thing, or they had other projects commanding their attention. This was fine with us. Maybe there will be something else down the road that better fits their ideas. We'll ask again, because their participation in that 'something else' could be invaluable.
You have to realize that there are millions of people involved in various aspects of the wider cause of men's rights. I have the unique privilege of being able to have daily contact with people all over the world, and each organized group is valuable, and essential for its differences, and its ability to relate to their local community. When you're thinking about how you want to organize your group, take a look at the websites of various established orgs, and see how they do things. Make contact with these guys and listen to what they say about how their group got together, and learn from their mistakes. You'll find that the most successful orgs are those that have established one or two specific areas of interest and concentrated their efforts there. Don't scatter your attention with too many projects or subjects.
Here are some examples of orgs that got their acts together and made themselves real:
AZFathers (in this case, the real preceded the Web presence)
Some helps on getting started:
BTW--You need not pay for meeting space to get your group together. I've never once paid for meeting space in 15 years of social activism. Outside of the obvious 'somebody's living room,' there are also places like Barnes& Noble or other bookstores, your local library, or the community room at your apartment complex. Sometimes government entities will let you use a conference room. I've held meetings for various purposes at the fire department, the Bureau of Reclamation, and city hall. Churches tend to charge for meeting space, but I've heard of groups meeting for free in funeral homes, nursing homes and hospitals. Check with your membership first to see if somebody's got access to space somewhere.
Myths And Realities Of Non-Profits
Keep in mind--although in the US 501(c) 3 nonprofit status is the big Kahuna among non-profits, you don't need to have that to be a non-profit. What 501(c)3 status gives you is ability to apply for federal grants, etc., and those who donate money to your org can claim the donation on their taxes. Your org can avoid paying sales taxes in some cases. It is expensive to apply for, (in the neighborhood of $800-2500, due to the need to publish the announcement of the formation of the org.) It requires a board, by-laws, regular elections of officials, etc. If you don't expect to apply for grants or your donors don't expect to itemize their income taxes, perhaps you might get along with just calling yourself non-profit and be done with it.
I am familiar with orgs that have functioned well for years without it, such as the AZFathers, which has been in operation since the early 70s. Here in the Yuma area, we have a charity called Precious Treasures that serves the homeless and underprivileged, providing emergency help of clothes, food, etc. While they recently became 501(c)3, in order to grab a piece of that federal pie, before that they were simply non-profit. They weren't dealing with large amounts of money--but all donations went to the org, and their donors knew that. Many small groups, such as your local hiker's association, or writer's groups, are set up that way.
What you need to be a non-profit is simply to not have anyone who directly profits monetarily from the activities of the org, period.
Now we have some helps with the basics of starting a 501(c) 3 non-profit org (right now we have only US info, but when we have some from other countries, we'll add it!)
starting a nonprofit