To maintain a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation in Wisconsin
- Apply for exemption from state taxes
- File Annual Federal Returns for Tax-exempt organizations
- Maintain a Registered Agent
- File periodic reports
- Apply for permits and licenses
- Register/Renew Charitable Registration
- Register with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development
- Comply with Public Inspection Rules
1. Apply for exemption from state taxes
A. State income tax exemption
Once your organization receives your 501(c) determination letter from the IRS, your organization will automatically be exempt from both income and franchise taxes.
B. State sales tax exemption
To apply for a sales and use tax exemption, fill out form S-103, the Application for Wisconsin Sales and Use Tax Certificate of Exempt Status (CES). You will need to mail this form, along with a copy of your Articles of Incorporation, your bylaws, your IRS determination letter, and a statement of your expenses and income for your most-recent accounting period.
2. Annual Federal Returns for Tax-exempt organizations
A. Annual Federal Returns
Most tax-exempt nonprofit organizations are required to file an annual return with the IRS (Check the IRS website for a list of exceptions).
The annual gross receipt amounts for an organization determine which form should be used to file the annual federal return.
‘Gross receipt’ is defined by the IRS as “the total amounts the organization received from all sources during its annual accounting period, without subtracting any costs or expenses”
For any questions, contact the IRS at
- (800) 829-3676 (Form related questions)
- (800) 829-1040 (general information)q
Q: When is form 990 due?
A: Form 990 is due on the 15th day of the 5th month after the taxable year of the organization comes to an end.
E.g. If the taxable year ends on Dec 31st, form 990 is due on May 15th.
NOTE: If an organization fails to file form 990 for 3 consecutive years, it will automatically lose tax-exempt status.
B. Unrelated Business Income
If an organization has a gross income of ≥$1000 from a trade or business that is not related to the stated purpose of the organization, then it must file Form 990-T to pay tax on that income.
If your organization expects to pay $500 or more for the year in taxes on unrelated business income, your organization must pay a quarterly estimated tax on the unrelated business income using Form 990-W.
3. Maintain a Registered Agent
Any nonprofit that has incorporated must have a registered agent who has an office address in Wisconsin. If your registered agent, or their office address, changes, you must file Form 13 with the Department of Financial Institutions so that your Articles of Incorporation may be updated.
If you fail to notify the Department of Financial Institutions of this change, your corporation may be subject to termination.
4. File Periodic Reports
The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (WDFI) requires nonprofits to submit an annual report, due each year by the end of your anniversary quarter. The WDFI will typically send the form to your registered agent, but you may also access the form online.
Failure to file the appropriate reports may subject your organization to termination.
5. Apply for Permits and Licenses
The majority of Wisconsin nonprofits will not need a general business license of any kind. However, as you are applying for your Business Tax ID (using form BTR-101), you wish to request tax permits where appropriate:
- Seller’s Permit
- Wisconsin Withholding Tax
- Use Tax Certificate
- Consumer’s Use Tax Certificate
If your organization would like to host charitable gambling of any kind, access the Department of Administration’s website for full details on bingo licenses.
You may also want to check with your county or city clerk’s office to determine if there are any local licensing requirements.
6. Register/Renew Charitable Registration
If your Wisconsin nonprofit plans to solicit contributions or hire a professional solicitor to act on your behalf, you are required to register with the State of Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. You can register using Form 296 - Charitable Organization Registration Application along with the following documents:
- IRS Determination Letter
- Articles of Incorporation
- Formal statement that explains how you intend to use the funds that your organization raises
You can send these documents, along with your application form, to:
Department of Financial Institutions
P.O. Box 7876
Madison, WI 53707-7876
Phone: (608) 267-1711
Filing Fee: $15
Once your organization is registered, you may renew your registration online through the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions’ website.
7. Register with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development
If your nonprofit will have employees, you will need to register with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
8. Comply with Public Inspection Rules
To comply with federal regulations regarding 501(c)(3) charities, you will need to release the following documents to any member of the public that requests them:
- Your organization’s annual returns for up to 3 years after the listed due date (including the following Forms: 990-PF, 990-EZ, 990-T, and 990)
- Any supporting documents and attachments for the above 990 forms. However, you only need to include the nature of the contribution and the amount contributed for Schedule B.
- Official IRS paperwork showing your organization is considered to be tax-exempt.
- Your organization’s application for exemption and all supporting documents submitted with your application (including Form 1023).
Your organization does NOT need to share the following documents and information with members of the public:
- Any portion of Form 990/990-EZ’s Schedule B that identify who contributors are.
- Anything considered to be an unfavorable ruling, which can include previous denials of tax-exempt status.
- Any additional information permitted to be withheld by the IRS, including things such as trade secrets, patents, etc.
Recommended: Inform your employees about their rights and stay compliant by posting labor law posters in your workplace.
Q: Can I charge members of the public for copies?
A: Yes, you are permitted to request a reasonable amount to procure copies of requested documents.
Q: If requested, how much time do we have to produce the documents?
A: It is ideal to produce these documents within the same working day. However, if your nonprofit has limited office hours due to the time of year, or you don’t have a physical office at all, you should produce the documents within 14 days.
Q: Do I actually need to provide physical copies of the requested documents?
A: If a member of the public as for copies of documents, whether in writing or in person, you are required to make them available.
NOTE: We recommend that nonprofits make these documents available on their website. That way, anyone who might request copies of these documents can simply head to your website to view and/or download them. This will help your organization remain compliant and save time dealing with these requests personally.
To learn more about forming a nonprofit, check out our How to Start a Nonprofit in Wisconsin Guide.