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Gilded Serpent presents...
Nonprofits for Middle Eastern Belly Dancers
Is a 501c3 Right for You?
by Dawn Devine

Is it possible to make money in this crazy world of Middle Eastern belly dance?
There are dancers in every major city around the world plying their various trades.  We can be found performing in restaurants, private parties, public events and dance festivals.  Our dance sisters are teaching in various community spaces, fitness centers and private studios. We plan, organize and execute events, from tiny student showcases, to giant multi-day festivals that require complex management skills to contract and schedule facilities, musicians, vendors, performers, music, video, food and more.  A lucky and talented few even reach the pinnacle of success, traveling the globe teaching workshops and giving command performances.   We vend, we make and sell music, craft videos, make costumes and develop websites.  All in all, the world of belly dance is diverse, talented and profitable!

However, there are times when being involved in a non-profit organization can be best for business.  But how can giving up profit lead to financial success? 

By understanding the nature of non-profits, how they are organized and run, you can see their potential for developing successful arts organization, performance space, dance company or troupe.

So, what is a non-profit?
Simply put, a non-profit or not-for-profit is a status granted to an organization in the form of a corporation where all funds raised remain within the organization. No part of the organization’s income is distributed to directors or officers. In contrast, a private sector corporation will distribute profits directly to its owner or shareholders.  

501c3 is an IRS designation that is given to organizations that are deemed tax exempt. These non-profit organizations do not have to pay income tax on monies earned.  However, if the organization has paid employees, they will still have to pay employment tax on their earnings.  

To gain this status with the IRS, a non-profit organization must serve the community.

To achieve the potent IRS designation of a 501c3 charitable nonprofit, the corporation must carry out a mission that is charitable, educational, religious, literary or scientific. As a 501c3, the IRS grants the organization tax-exempt status. Arts organizations fall into the educational category. Most organizations also choose a charity, cause or other non-profit service to support through fund-raising.

Steps for forming a non-profit – a quick overview:
Many informative websites include a quick reference checklist for forming your nonprofit organization.  Some have as few as five steps; one I read had no less than 37!   Here is a manageable overview, and yet is still detailed.  Although they roughly go in order, many of these tasks can be rearranged depending on your individual circumstances, and certainly, this is not the most exhaustive list – so there may be steps that have been inadvertently left out.

If you are serious about forming a nonprofit, read as much as you possibly can, run it past all of your friends, family and coworkers and don’t forget to harness the power of like-minded individuals from all walks of life when recruiting your founding board.  If you are serious about forming a nonprofit, you may want to seek out legal advice – many lawyers will donate time to nonprofit start-ups as a tax right-off-able donation!

  • Determine if being a non-profit is right for your situation.
  • Decide on your purpose, mission, values and vision.
  • Recruit your founding board members.
  • Select a name and check on availability.
  • Write the articles of incorporation
  • Create a strategic plan.
  • Develop a budget.
  • Establish record keeping and accounting systems.
  • File articles of incorporation for your state, country or region.
  • Draft the corporate bylaws.
  • Schedule and hold your initial meetings of the board of directors.
  • If you will have employees, file for your EIN tax id number.
  • File for tax-exempt status with the IRS. (501c3) Filing form 1023.
  • Apply for sales-tax exemption with your state.
  • Some areas require that you register or apply for permits for your charity.

Nonprofit Reading List

  • How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation by Anthony Mancuso
  • How to Manage an Effective Nonprofit Organization: From Writing and Managing Grants to Fundraising, Board Development and Strategic Planning by Michael A. Sand
  • Starting & building a Nonprofit: A Practical Guide by Peri Pakroo
  • Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations by Michael Allison and Jude Kaye
  • Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations by John M. Bryson
  • Breakthrough Thinking for Nonprofit Organizations: Creative Strategies for Extraordinary Results by Bernard Ross
  • The Nonprofit Membership Toolkit by Ellis M. M. Robinson
  • The Complete Idiots Guide to Grant Writing by Waddy Thompson
  • Managing the Non-Profit Organization by Peter F. Druker
  • Nonprofit Kit for Dummies by Stan Hutton
  • How to Produce Fabulous Fundraising Events: reap Remarkable Returns with Minimal Effort by Betty Stallings

Excellent Articles to help plan, start and run your non-profit arts organization.

Non Profit Dance Groups in our Community

North Texas Middle Eastern Dance Association -
Lotus Fire Belly Dance
American Belly Dance Club
Beledi Club of Huntsville
MECDA (rumored to be a 501c4)
Asociated Artists of Middle Eastern Dance
MEDANZ of New Zealand
Regina Association of Middle Eastern Dancers of Canada
Ammala Middle Eastern Dance & Music –

Dance Companies
Kismet Dance
Jawaahir Dance Company & The Cassandra School
Aria Dance company
AALIM Internationale
Morocco and the Casbah Experience
Mystic Sun

Other Dance Organizations
Isis Foundation – Publishers of The Chronicles

Future related subjects to explore- (wish list!)

  • Grant writing
  • Other structures of business
    • 501c4- non taxable but not a non profit-
      (what is?)
    • Sole proprietor
    • LLC
    • S corporation
    • C corporation
  • Profiles and experiences of music and dance non profit organizations
Can a non-profit make a profit?
Fundamentally, a non-profit CAN make money, but it must keep the proceeds within the organization to spend on future charitable activities, community education and other activities established in the mission statement. In contrast, a private sector corporation will distribute profits to its shareholders. The good news is that many non-profits do actually make enough money to survive and thrive.  And some are able to earn enough income to hire support staff, such as a director.

By incorporating as a nonprofit association, you can establish legal protection that separates your personal assets from the activities of the corporation.

Founding a Non – Profit
Founding a non-profit takes time, research and commitment to the group. When you form a nonprofit organization, you are starting a company, with a corporate structure and all the work that running a business entails.  You have to be committed to doing a great deal of foundational work and leading your team, composed of the founding board members, through the complicated work of establishing your organization.

Non-profits operate under a corporate structure, with a board of directors who set policy and committee members who work within a structure dictated by bylaws and serve the mission of the organization.

Each country, state or region establishes specific requirements for incorporating.  Because this is a legal entity, it’s important to do your research for your particular area.

Benefits of being a nonprofit:

  • Limits personal liability of the members and directors.
  • Reduced rates for everything from rental space to insurance.
  • Fundraising opportunities through grants and endowments.
  • Donors can deduct gifts to your nonprofit.
  • The organization continues after you have gone.


  • Lots of Paperwork
  • Expense of incorporation
  • Must keep excellent records
  • Might need legal advice.
  • The seated board has the power to determine the direction of the organization.

As a dancer who founds a non-profit dance company, the board of directors can then hire you to run the organization and pay you a salary or stipend out of the earnings of the organization.  You, as an employee of a non-profit, draw a salary, and help the board carry out the mission of the organization.  While the board has ultimate power in such vital roles as establishing the budget and making policy decisions, the director shapes the vision and provides hands-on work to achieve the organizations goals. Alternately, you could choose to sit on the board and taking an active role in the shaping the mission of the organization, working as a volunteer.

Non-profits for dancers
As individuals, dancers can become involved in the planning, organization and running of a non-profit as a board member, paid staff or volunteer worker.  Depending on the structure and mission of the non-profit, a member at any level will find opportunities to perform, shape the dance community and contribute to the greater good through charitable work.  Dancers with vision, a cause and a strong mission statement are great candidates for establishing a non-profit.

Dance troupes and companies
For dance troupes, having non-profit status provides the group with numerous fundraising opportunities that range from applying for grants and soliciting donations from patrons of the arts. Donations made to non-profit dance companies are tax deductible for the donors – a bonus that may make the difference in the quantity and quality of donations. In addition to donations, receipts from ticket sales are not taxed as individual income, but rather, all feed into a communal pool of funds. Troupe uniforms, travel costs, liability insurance and event expenses are all paid out of the organizations communal bank account.

Dance studios, schools and performance spaces
Non-profit status offers dance studio's several critical advantages over for-profit organizations. Access to better insurance coverage, lower advertising rates and access to more helping hands through the board of directors, paid staff and volunteers can lead to more effective management and ultimately, more profitability for the facility. If you have dreams of running your own studio, yet don’t want all of the financial liabilities and the tremendous amount of solo work, you can form a non-profit and become the paid director of the organization. Ultimately, it is the head of the organization, artistic director and board that shape the vision and direction of the non-profit studio or dance company.

Dance clubs and social organizations
If you are forming a club or association dedicated to the dance arts, forming a non-profit is a logical step.  As a non-profit, your membership dues are tax-exempt as are other monies from fund-raising activities. Many organizations carry out their mission to educate through the production of publications, newsletters and magazines.   Non-profits have reduced rates on facilities, rental space, insurance rates and provides opportunity for state and local funding for arts presentations and community education.

Mission Statements and Goal Setting
Your organization is defined by the choices the founders make and shape the direction subsequent leaders move.   The founders lay the intellectual architecture that shapes the core of the organization.  Don Adams, in his article “The Pillars of Planning: Mission, Values, Vision,” proposes, “Mission, values and vision are the glue that holds an organization together.” These three elements should be considered by the founders of any non-profit and should be integrated into the very fiber of the organizations directly in the mission statement and in ongoing strategic planning.

  • Mission – The mission is a statement that encapsulates and defines your organization.  Why does your group exist?  What are the intentions of the founders?  Why was this organization founded and who or what does it support?   Over time, the mission statement can be reevaluated and refreshed by current board members to keep the organization fresh, dynamic and vital.
  • Values – Every non-profit organization needs to have a core set of fundamental values that inform the choices in how the group crafts their activities.  These values will help shape the choices of the board in event planning, fund raising and community outreach.  The values should be clearly stated and form the intellectual compass that guides the direction of the organization.
  • Vision – What are the plans and goals that keep your organization moving forward and maintaining a clear course consistent with the mission of the group?  The vision of the leader(s) serves as a powerful motivating force behind volunteer and member recruitment.  The vision should be meaningful, supporting the mission of the organization.  From this the staff and volunteers will pull energy, desire and creativity to do the work they’ve volunteered to do if they feel moved by the vision of the organization.

Writing the Mission Statement
There is no one standard format for your non-profit mission statement, but there are several functions that it must perform.  The mission statement must answer the most critical question, “Why does this organization exist?”   In answering this question, you will define who are your members and clients and how you will service them with your organization.  You will also note how individuals of the organization and the community at large will benefit from the works of your organization.  And finally, you will integrate your vision and values that guide how your non-profit operates.

The Decision Made – Mission Established - The Work Begins
Once you’ve made the decision to incorporate as a non-profit in your state or region, and have mapped out the essence of your mission, there is a good deal of preparation that needs to happen. The next step is to discuss your plans with a lawyer familiar with nonprofit issues.  Seeking legal advice is essential to help ensure that you craft your mission and business plans to pass the eligibility requirements of the IRS.   Ask other local non-profits for references or check with your local bar association.  In some cases you may find a lawyer to help you set up your non-profit pro-bono.

While you and your founding board can accomplish much of the groundwork of setting up a non-profit, it is always advisable to seek out legal advice.

There are many detailed books and informational websites that can guide you through the process of setting up your non-profit organization.  From designing your bylaws and filing your articles of incorporation to planning programs, fundraising activities and events. The books in the reading list will offer expertise to step you through the process.  While no book can replace the advice of a lawyer, they are a great place to start your planning.

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