When brainstorming for ideas for a nonprofit, your first decisions include determining to which social category of nonprofit the company will conform and for whom you will advocate. Many not-for-profit companies engage in charitable endeavors encompassing business sectors from the arts to health care. Brainstorming activities can help you determine your nonprofit's general focus, providing the basis for further brainstorming with the principles of your proposed company.


Before your brainstorming session begins, locate a well-lit environment in which to assemble. Comfortable chairs and a conference table should be in place, and you may wish to include a side table containing light refreshments. Each person should have note-taking supplies at their disposal, and place a whiteboard and flip charts, including writing utensils, near the table in clear view of everyone. You also may use a computer and projector to display the group's ideas. Prior to the meeting, designate one of the attendees to record each idea.

The Session

The session leader should encourage participation by every member on your brainstorming team. Having to speak freely in front of others can be intimidating for some, so the session facilitator should establish that all ideas are welcome, regardless of how silly they may sound. Numerous ideas can increase the likelihood of discovering some that are exceptional. To encourage the flow of ideas that might reveal the purpose of your nonprofit, display individual images on a variety of subjects, and ask the group to describe how each image might be connected to a nonprofit business concept. For example, a photo of circus tightrope walkers might elicit responses like, “Our nonprofit provides balance in the ever-changing health field.” An image of a hot-air balloon might bring forth “Our nonprofit soars above all the red tape in government assistance.”


Nonprofit organizations rely, in part, on monetary contributions through fundraising to keep them afloat, and these can be supplemented with the sales of related goods or services. Your brainstorming session can explore various ancillary activities. For example, if the arts is your nonprofit's main concern, brainstorming can help you come up with ideas such as producing art auctions or offering art classes, which can accumulate considerable funds.

Visualize Success

Effective brainstorming should include manifesting a vision of what your successful nonprofit will be. Doing so can authenticate your company’s goals, and the group can brainstorm ideas that might attribute to reaching those goals. Ask your group members to individually make a statement that could describe what your business’ success would look like. For example, “In our first five years, our nonprofit will find 1,000 homes for those in need.” Following this activity, ask for additional ideas that might lead to achieving the stated objectives.

Narrow Down

To begin the process of choosing the outstanding applicable ideas for a nonprofit, you can ask participants to select those that are most appealing. Set aside all remaining ideas, and then repeat the process, asking the group for favorites from the remaining ideas. Ensure that the final few concepts correspond to what you want the nonprofit to achieve, stating a specific result that your business would aim to accomplish, such as, “Our nonprofit will work to provide meals for all school-age children in our community.” As you cull your idea list, the best one should reveal itself to be achievable and relevant to your community and clearly demonstrate your nonprofit’s mission and vision.