Lessons Learned from Starting a Nonprofit Counseling Center…

Just because writing a blog, writing a book, teaching Bible study, organizing trips to women’s conferences, taking care of an ailing brother, taking care of his estate, serving on the Board of Trustees at my church, and recovering from 2 heart attacks apparently wasn’t enough to keep me out of trouble, I decided, in September 2013 to work on a new project. The project?


It’s good that I helped with its formation, because after this 14 month process (that often reminded me of childbirth–without the epidural), I probably need my head examined.

What is Compassion Counseling Center? A non-profit organization dedicated to helping those in our community who need counseling, but can’t afford it. But that’s not all it is.

We have a university in our town that is actively churning out the next generation of mental health counselors. And since our town is small, these students often have a tough time fulfilling the direct counseling requirement for their graduation. They have to complete, as of this writing, 320 hours of counseling clients. This requirement will eventually go up to 700 hours. Thus, Compassion will utilize some of these talented, dedicated students to take care of the needs of those who might not be able to get help anywhere else.

They will be supervised by licensed supervisors every step of the way and most of these students have already completed every other aspect of their training. And since they are happy to just have the opportunity to help, they are not looking to make a fortune doing this (That helps us keep the counseling affordable for our clients). They’re just happy to get the hours and be on hand to watch lives change for the better.

The final piece to the Compassion “puzzle” comes from my overly-generous church, Oakdale United Methodist Church. They are providing counseling rooms and a pile of other things too numerous to mention free of charge. Again, they’re just happy to help. I am one blessed woman to call Oakdale my church home.

I now serve as the Board Secretary for Compassion and will serve as Scheduling Coordinator when we begin counseling on January 15th, 2015. So, what have I learned? Let’s see:

1. Stop reading the posts on my church’s Facebook page. The comment of one of our members is what put a light bulb over my head.

2. Stop listening to the Holy Spirit. I’m convinced He turned the light bulb into a flood light.

3. Never mention crazy counseling ideas to the guy who mentored you all the way through your own counseling program. He’ll expect you to actually make them happen.

4. Put a lot of grammatical errors and a lack of information in proposals to your church for using their facilities for a counseling organization so they won’t be quite as eager to approve it, resulting in massive amounts of work in your “free time.”

5. Can’t find a Fund-raising Chair and Board Treasurer? Just ask for volunteers on Facebook. In 3 hours both positions were filled. (How long have I been on Facebook?)

6. Never tell the “elder stateswoman” of your church about the “flood light.” She’ll nag you like your own mother until you make it happen. I used to miss my mother. Not. Any. More. And somehow I still adore her. Go figure.

7. Don’t ask people to be Board members. Just tell them they’re drafted. Much more efficient and much more up my alley. It reminds me of assigning household chores to my 3 offspring. Guilt works, too. Again, right up my Mom Alley.

8. If you want a longer to do list, start a counseling center. I might see “daylight” in 2036.

9. The IRS documents to become a 501(c)(3) are longer than War and Peace

10. Don’t name your organization “Tea Party Counseling Center” if you want your 501(c)(3) application to be approved by the IRS.

11. Consult a CPA before you complete War and PeaceYou might save yourself an entire decade, 20 gray hairs and new frown and scowl wrinkles.

12. Have a son-in-law who is masterful at turning shoe-string promotional budgets into outside-the-box spectacular web site design. His fee? A new lawn trimmer.

13. Getting a PayPal account might require an act of Congress. Does Congress act?

14. PayPal executives must have worked for the IRS before their current place of employment.

15. It pays to know people. Pretty soon I’m going to have to pay to know the right people.

16. When Board meetings start to resemble “Live at the Improv,” they may be a little long.

17. I’m writing a book? What book? What is a book?

18. My house is starting to resemble the “work-full-time; study-full time” years. Not a good trend.

19. The dog is not amused. She is demanding equal time with her frisbee. Maybe I can get a Congressman to do that? Because we KNOW they aren’t busy.

20. One doesn’t start a nonprofit counseling center by him- or herself. Much of the above was not accomplished by me. Here’s what I mean:

  • I am blessed that my mentor consented to be our Executive Director (without expecting compensation) and the supervisor for our students.
  • We have a dedicated group of people on the Compassion Counseling Center Board (who didn’t need an additional commitment on their plates).
  • My fellow church members have gone above and beyond normal church membership to assist in preparing for our opening in January.
  • Friends who have heard about this endeavor have donated their time and expertise so that we could continue to keep our operating expenses down to a minimum.
  • With very little effort or publicity three talented, dedicated, enthusiastic students from our local universities are “pumped” and ready to conduct anywhere from 33 hours to 72 hours of weekly counseling this January. Each of them has a passion for a different area of counseling that I know will be needed this spring. Again, they are working for “hours” and no monetary compensation.
  • My entire family has not only tolerated my busy schedule, but has enthusiastically supported all that goes along with “launching this puppy.” I am so blessed to have such great “cheerleaders” in my life!
  • And last but certainly not least, the ultimate Creator has opened doors when they should have been closed to ensure that something good happens in my little rural county. I am still stunned by His ideas, His vision for better living, and that He sometimes foolishly chooses to work through His very imperfect servant–me.


Stay “tuned” here for further developments of the CCC (Compassion Counseling Center). It’s about to get pretty exciting. It’s amazing what that Holy Spirit can do with a light bulb. And to those of you who have helped get this “puppy” launched, you will never know how grateful I am for your enthusiasm and support. You, too, are pretty awesome light bulbs from the Holy Spirit because you illumine my life immeasurably.

Friday’s Post: Are you twirling?

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 at 10:50 am and is filed under Lessons Learned. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.


  1. November 19th, 2014 | Liesa says:


  2. November 19th, 2014 | maryann says:

    Love YOU!

  3. August 24th, 2018 | Monte Y. Pescador says:

    Would like to talk to you (email-wise) about how to start a non-profit counseling center. Saw one article about a guy on the east coast who started one that took insurance and donations to keep going and growing. My partner and I are interested in this, being Christian counselors.

  4. August 27th, 2018 | maryann says:

    Sorry, Monty. Just now seeing this. Use the “Contact Me” page to send me an email.

  5. November 25th, 2019 | Lily says:

    I need help in this area. Im from Namibia and I’m interested in opening up a non profit organization on Counselling young children that have been affected by Gender based violence. GBV is very high in our country, almost everyday there is always a headline of spouses harming and liking themselves, the aftermath of that is children that have been subjected to trauma , loss and violence. I willing to play my part in this area as we continue the fight against GBV. Please contact me. Kind regards

  6. December 19th, 2019 | maryann says:

    Please go to my “Contact” page and email me and I’ll be happy to offer up what I can. My suspicion is that laws regarding nonprofits in Namibia are very different from laws in the US, but I can at least share what I did here and then perhaps that will give a little bit of direction for how to approach it there.

  7. November 25th, 2019 | Lily says:

    Sorry, that’s my correct email address. Contact me on that one.

  8. September 29th, 2022 | Albertina says:

    Hi, I would like to start a non profit organization counseling program how do I start and how will I benefit from this

  9. December 13th, 2022 | maryann says:

    Hi, Albertina. Sorry I am just now seeing your comment. If you look at my response to Del, you can see how to do start a non-profit counseling center. Could you please give me a little more information as to what type of location you’d like to have the center? Also, why do you want to start this center?

  10. October 28th, 2022 | Del says:

    Just finishing my masters LPC in Oklahoma. I’m interested in setting up a non profit counseling center based from my church in my small rural town. Any advice would be appreciated so much

  11. December 13th, 2022 | maryann says:

    Hi, Del. Sorry that I’m just now seeing your comment. The first place to start is to pray! But, you already knew that, didn’t you?! Then, talk to whatever organization in your church makes governing decisions for your congregation. I drew up a two-page document of what I was proposing for that purpose to present to them. Ask what it would take, from their perspective, to make this work for the counseling center and for them. In my case, the church asked that we be a separate 501(c)(3). After that, organize at least a small Board–you will have to do that to become a 501(c)(3) and to accept donations from your donors. I would recommend that you have at least a President, a Vice-President who is great at fundraising, a Secretary, and a Treasurer. You will also need an Executive Director to run the center since you are just now finishing your master’s. I recommend someone who has run their own for-profit counseling center or has run another non-profit. In addition, I highly recommend having one well-trained “administrative assistant,” who can collect payments from clients, prepare Board meeting documents, prepare and de-prepare your church’s rooms for counseling, and do tidying throughout the used parts of the church, so that no one in the congregation is irritated by the presence of the center. This can be a volunteer. But, you also might be able to find a non-profit program that pays people to do such things for the center, in response to the new experience and expertise they will pick up from being at the center. If you want to know more, please email me and we can discuss this further! May God richly bless your endeavors! –MaryAnn

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