Do Nonprofits Have Franchises? Yes, They Are Called Affiliates

Franchising Can be for Good

California affiliate of Habitat for Humanity
••• California affiliate of Habitat for Humanity. Screengrab by Joanne Fritz

There is more than one way to participate in the nonprofit sector.

Becoming a stand-alone charity may not always be the best way to go. It's complex, and new nonprofits fail at about the same pace as for-profit businesses.

One way to help with a particular cause is to become an affiliate of another nonprofit.

Many of the charities we know at the local level are, in fact, branches of national, statewide, or regional nonprofits. They might be called an affiliate or a chapter.

Some national nonprofits simply link with already existing local nonprofits, while others have licensing agreements that make the local group a part of the national one.

These affiliates operate similarly to franchises. Usually, a parent organization copyrights its name and has a licensing agreement with any new group that wants to be a chapter.

The new organization obtains an EIN (federal tax id), and the parent organization follows the IRS procedures to cover the new organization under the group exemption of the parent.

Ellis Carter, an attorney, specializing in nonprofits, has explained the different ways a nonprofit can create affiliates. 

How Do You Find Nonprofits that Have Affiliates?

There is no central list of national, or statewide, nonprofits that offer the opportunity to become a chapter. 

Familiarize yourself with those nonprofits serving the cause you have an interest in, and then contact any that look interesting to see if they are open to new chapters.

Sometimes, a nonprofit will advertise that it is open to new affiliations. Here are a few organizations that have the welcome mat out for new affiliates:

Dress for Success.  This organization helps women around the world find the clothing they need to interview for jobs. It also provides career counseling and support.Volunteer driven, Dress for Success welcomes affiliates.

Habitat for Humanity. Habitat has become one of the most famous of nonprofits. It works all over the world to help low-income families move into homes. Volunteers help build the houses, companies provide materials, and local communities get heavily involved.

Boys and Girls Clubs of America, an iconic, historic nonprofit, operates across the country through a network of affiliates. More helpful than most, Boys and Girls Clubs lists on its website ten steps to becoming affiliated. The process demands serious intent and the ability to organize well.

Other, large, well known, nonprofits that have sophisticated networks of affiliates include the United Way, the Boy Scouts of America, Goodwill Industries, and Planned Parenthood. It will probably be harder to break into these well-established networks.

Consider Affiliating with a Giving Circle

Another group of charitable organizations that thrive on chapters or affiliates is Giving Circles.  These groups focus on raising funds, not running programs. There are many such groups across the world and affiliating with them might be much easier and far less complicated than affiliating with an organization that provides services.

Here's how Giving Circles work, and here are a few you might want to investigate if you'd like to set up a local chapter:

To find other possibilities for nonprofit affiliations, you can prowl the directory of nonprofits at GuideStar to see which ones have affiliates. Search for "organizations that have affiliates." That will bring up both parent groups and local affiliates but will narrow your search quite a lot.

A visit to the websites of likely candidates should reveal whether they accept new affiliations. 

If you are seriously interested in partnering with an existing nonprofit, keep your eye on local groups. Consider libraries, historical societies, and organizations that serve the needy.

Also, check out how to do good with other business structures besides the classic nonprofit model, such as hybrid organizations, BCorps, starting a for-profit with a social intent or becoming a social entrepreneur.