Starting a nonprofit is easy, just follow these simple steps:
To learn more about starting a nonprofit corporation in a specific part of the US, select your state below:
- Alabama 501c3
- Alaska 501c3
- Arizona 501c3
- Arkansas 501c3
- California 501c3
- Colorado 501c3
- Connecticut 501c3
- Delaware 501c3
- Florida 501c3
- Georgia 501c3
- Hawaii 501c3
- Idaho 501c3
- Illinois 501c3
- Indiana 501c3
- Iowa 501c3
- Kansas 501c3
- Kentucky 501c3
- Louisiana 501c3
- Maine 501c3
- Maryland 501c3
- Massachusetts 501c3
- Michigan 501c3
- Minnesota 501c3
- Mississippi 501c3
- Missouri 501c3
- Montana 501c3
- Nebraska 501c3
- Nevada 501c3
- New Hampshire 501c3
- New Jersey 501c3
- New Mexico 501c3
- New York 501c3
- North Carolina 501c3
- North Dakota 501c3
- Ohio 501c3
- Oklahoma 501c3
- Oregon 501c3
- Pennsylvania 501c3
- Rhode Island 501c3
- South Carolina 501c3
- South Dakota 501c3
- Tennessee 501c3
- Texas 501c3
- Utah 501c3
- Vermont 501c3
- Virginia 501c3
- Washington 501c3
- Washington D.C. 501c3
- West Virginia 501c3
- Wisconsin 501c3
- Wyoming 501c3
Step 1: Name Your Nonprofit
Choosing a name for your nonprofit organization is the first and most important step in starting your nonprofit corporation. Be sure to choose a name that complies with your state’s naming requirements and is easily searchable by potential members and donors.
Is the URL available? We recommend that you check to see if your business name is available as a web domain. Even if you don't plan to make a business website today, you may want to buy the URL in order to prevent others from acquiring it.
Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent
Your nonprofit is required to nominate a registered agent from your state for your organization. Check out our How to Choose a Registered Agent for Your Nonprofit guide for more information about choosing the best registered agent for your small business.
What is a Registered Agent? A registered agent is an individual or business entity responsible for receiving important legal documents on behalf of your business. Think of your registered agent as your business' point of contact with the state.
Who can be a Registered Agent? A registered agent must be a resident of your state or a corporation, such as a registered agent service, authorized to transact business in your state. You may elect an individual within the company including yourself.
Step 3: Select Your Directors & Officers
The directors of an organization come together to form a board of directors. This board of directors is responsible for overseeing the operations of the nonprofit.
The president, secretary, and other members of nonprofit who have individual responsibilities and authorities are known as officers.
The organization structure of your nonprofit in MUST include:
- At least 3 directors not related to each other
Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy
To be eligible to apply for 501c3 status, your nonprofit is required to have the following two documents:
- Conflict of interest policy
What are Bylaws? Bylaws are the rules outlining the operating procedures of the nonprofit.
What is a Conflict of Interest Policy? A Conflict of Interest Policy is the collection of rules put in place to ensure that any decisions made by the board of directors or the officers, benefits the nonprofit and not individual members.
NOTE: The bylaws and conflict of interest policy must be adopted by the nonprofit during its first organizational meeting where the board of directors and officers are officially appointed.
Step 5: File the Articles of Incorporation
To register your nonprofit, you will need to file the Articles of Incorporation with your state.
To ensure that your nonprofit is eligible to apply for 501c3, in your articles of incorporation you must explicitly state the following:
In order to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, the organization’s purpose must explicitly be limited to one or more of the following:
- Charitable, Religious, Scientific, Educational, Literary, Fostering national/international amateur sports competition, Preventing cruelty to animals/children, Testing for public safety,
You must explicitly state what the assets of the organization will be used for, and what will happen to the assets if the organization is dissolved.
To be eligible for 501(c)(3) status, the assets of your organization must only ever be used for purposes approved under section 501(c)(3).
Section 5 of this sample IRS document provides an example of these provisions required for 501(c)(3) eligibility.
Step 6: Get an EIN
What is an EIN? An Employer Identification Number (EIN), or Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN), is used by the federal government to identify a business entity. It is essentially a social security number for the company.
Why do I need an EIN? An EIN is required for the following:
- To open a business bank account for the company
- For Federal and State tax purposes
- To hire employees for the company
How do I get an EIN? An EIN is obtained from the IRS (free of charge) by the business owner after forming the company. This can be done online or by mail. Check out our EIN Lookup guide for more information.
Step 7: Apply for 501(c)(3) Status
Before a nonprofit can apply for 501(c)(3) status it must:
- Elect at least three directors not related to each other
- File the Articles of Incorporation with the required provisions (As covered in Step 5)
- Adopt the bylaws and conflict of interest policy
- Have an EIN number
Once these four conditions have been met, your nonprofit can apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status by filing Form-1023 online.
If your application is approved, the IRS will send you a determination letter stating that your organization is exempt from federal taxes under section 501(c)(3).
When should an organization apply for federal tax exemption?
Form 1023 must be filed within 27 months from the end of the first month your organization was created.
How long will it take for the IRS to process Form 1023/1023-EZ?
Soon after sending your application you should receive an acknowledgement of receipt of your application.
If your application is simple and complete, IRS will send your determination letter within 180 days for Form 1023
If you have not heard from them by that time you can call 877-829-5500 to enquire about your application.
Protect Your Business & Personal Assets
1. Opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
To open a bank account for your nonprofit corporation you will typically need the following:
- The EIN for the nonprofit
- A copy of the nonprofit’s bylaws
- A copy of the articles of incorporation
Read our Best Small Business Banks review to find the right bank for your nonprofit’s needs
2. Getting a business credit card:
- Helps you separate personal and business expenses.
- Builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise capital later on.
Business insurance helps you manage risks and focus on growing your business. The most common types of business insurance are:
- General Liability Insurance: A broad insurance policy that protects your business from lawsuits. Most small businesses get general liability insurance.
- Professional Liability Insurance: A business insurance for professional service providers (consultants, accountants, etc.) that covers against claims of malpractice and other business errors.
- Workers' Compensation Insurance: A type of insurance that provides coverage for employees’ job-related illnesses, injuries, or deaths.
Properly Sign Legal Documents
Improperly signing a document as yourself and not as a representative of the business can leave you open to personal liability. When signing legal documents on behalf of your nonprofit , you could follow this formula to avoid problems:
- Formal name of your organization
- Your signature
- Your name
- Your position in the business as its authorized representative
See the image below for an example.
This ensures that you are signing on behalf of your nonprofit and not as yourself.