Domestic violence happens in every community to people of every walk of life. The need for supportive services, including shelter, is great. If you are considering starting a domestic violence shelter, the following steps will offer a very basic idea of what is involved.

Establish a need. You may think it is a good idea to start a domestic violence shelter in your community, but how do you know there is a need? Find out by conducting a stakeholder survey. Distribute surveys or conduct in person interviews with community stakeholders. These may include law enforcement and healthcare professionals, staff from community service agencies already in place, Department of Human Resources, local clergy and counselors. Be sure to include questions that help you determine the scope of the problem, the nature of services already available and the gaps to be filled.

Evaluate your findings. What did you learn from your surveys? Do your results point to a need for a domestic violence shelter? You may want to include potential board members in this part of the process. A Board of Directors is required for non-profit organizations. If you do start a domestic violence shelter you will want to involve committed people that are knowledgeable about the problem and its impact on your community.

Make your case. Assuming your research revealed the need for new or additional shelter, it is now time to develop your proposal. Write about what you learned from your research, what you plan to do because of what you learned, why you are qualified to do it, your timeline, how much it will cost and any anticipated outcomes. Let someone outside of the project read your proposal for clarity. The problem, domestic violence, and how you are proposing to address it, should be clear to someone that knows nothing at all about domestic violence.

Interview and seat founding board members. Together you should establish governing documents such as policies and procedures, shelter mission and by-laws.

Apply for non-profit, 501c3 status. This designation allows individuals, corporations, foundations and government funders to enjoy a tax deduction on any monies given to your shelter (in-kind gifts, such as a building to be used for shelter, also yield favorable tax benefits). You will want to consult with an attorney for this process.

Open a bank account - ideally, your board members will be your first donors. 100% board participation in giving shows others that you believe strongly in the work you are doing. Board members should be involved in ongoing fundraising efforts.

Develop and implement your fundraising plan. Review requests for proposals (if you want to submit a proposal for funding before you receive your 501c3 designation, you will want to use a fiscal agent to accept the funds on behalf of your shelter), plan fundraising and prepare solicitation letters for potential individual donors.


There are many helpful agencies that can help you start a domestic violence shelter. These include the Department of Human Resources and The Foundation Center. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is also an excellent resource.


Don't forget insurance. In addition to coverage for your building and property, you will need insurance for your Board of Directors.