California nonprofit organizations will likely need to appoint and retain a registered agent.
A registered agent receives all official paperwork from the State of California, they also receive any service of process a business may be served in a lawsuit.
Choosing a registered agent for your 501(c)(3) nonprofit is the second step in our complete guide, How to Start a Nonprofit in California.
Recommended: Get a free year of reliable registered agent services when you form your nonprofit with Northwest ($29 plus state fees).
What Is a California Agent for Service of Process?
An agent for service of process is a professional who will serve as your organization’s representative to the California Secretary of State while you operate your business. Some states refer to service of process agents as registered agents, resident agents, or statutory agents.
Your agent for service of process typically will receive correspondence, such as compliance information and tax notifications, on behalf of your organization. Service of process agents also are in charge of accepting service of process documents. This simply means your agent for service of process will accept the legal summons and documents on your nonprofit’s behalf in the event someone sues your nonprofit.
In California, the requirements for service of process agents include:
- They may be domestic or foreign individuals or business entities.
- Individuals must be California residents.
- Business entities must be registered to operate in California.
- They must have a physical address (not just a P.O. box) in California.
- They must always be available at said physical address during regular business hours.
Can I Be My Own Agent for Service of Process in California?
Any individual can serve as your nonprofit’s agent for service of process as long as they meet the requirements listed above. You may choose to act as your nonprofit’s agent for service of process; you may also select a member of your board of directors or a reliable friend.
If you choose to act as your organization’s agent for service of process, you must understand the importance of this position. If you miss a filing deadline or lose a document, you could put your nonprofit’s compliance status at risk and the Secretary of State could revoke your nonprofit’s corporation status.
Many nonprofits and other businesses choose to hire a professional registered agent service to ensure their organization remains in compliance at all times.
Should My Nonprofit Use a California Registered Agent Service?
Before you decide to hire a California registered agent service, be sure to consider the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.
You might consider hiring a registered agent service for your nonprofit organization for several reasons. Specifically, this approach can:
- Save You Time: When you first start your California nonprofit, you need to focus on doing everything you can to make it successful. Hiring a registered agent service will allow you to focus on what’s important while the registered agent service takes care of all incoming mail and official notices. In addition, they’ll often remind you of upcoming important filings or deadlines.
- Protect Your Personal Privacy and Your Business’s Reputation: Unfortunately, at some point in time, your organization may face a lawsuit. When you hire a professional registered agent service, all service of process notices will be delivered to a business address. If you act as your own agent for service of process, law enforcement agents could deliver these notices to your home or your place of work, depending on the address on file.
In addition to protecting your privacy and your business’s reputation, registered agent services are accustomed to receiving and properly handling this legal paperwork. This will help ensure your organization doesn’t lose a lawsuit on a technicality because you forgot to file something on time or you mishandled something due to not knowing how the legal system works.
- Ensure Prompt Handling of Your Business Mail: Because a registered agent service’s primary job is to serve as an agent for service of process for a number of organizations, you can be sure they’ll address any mail they receive promptly. In addition, they’ll be available during their normal business hours to answer any questions you might have about these documents.
- Keep Your Nonprofit Compliant: You must ensure your nonprofit remains compliant with the requirements set forth by the State of California and the federal government (if you successfully apply for 501(c)(3) status). Hiring a registered agent service will help ensure you don’t miss a single filing.
- Offer Convenience: Service of process agents are required to be present at their listed address during business hours. That means hiring a registered agent service will allow you to take off work as needed and choose a flexible working schedule if desired.
- Provide National Support: If you think you may want to grow your organization nationally, choose a national registered agent service so it can continue to support you as your business grows.
The only disadvantage of hiring a registered agent service is that it costs money, whereas you could act as your own agent for service of process for free.
Do I Need to Hire a Professional Registered Agent Service?
While hiring a professional registered agent service can be a great idea for several reasons, it becomes essential in some situations. If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you should hire a registered agent service for your nonprofit.
- Does your nonprofit keep irregular business hours? As previously noted, your nonprofit’s agent for service of process must be available at their listed address during standard business hours. If your nonprofit’s operating hours fall outside the standard 9-to-5, you’ll need to hire a registered agent service.
- Do you live out of state? Your nonprofit’s agent for service of process must be a resident of the state in which your nonprofit is incorporated. If you're not a California resident, you’ll need to hire a California agent for service of process to represent your nonprofit.
- Is your nonprofit located in multiple states — or will it be in the future? If your nonprofit currently operates in multiple states — or has plans to do so — you must appoint a registered agent in every state in which it will operate. Because you obviously can’t be in two places at once, it’s essential that you hire a registered agent service.
- Will you operate without a physical address? If you plan to solely operate your nonprofit online, or without a physical address, you won’t have a business address to list on your Articles of Incorporation and other important legal documents. By hiring a professional registered agent, you can list their agency’s physical address on all documents.
How Do I Choose an Agent for Service of Process in California?
You must select an agent for service of process for your California nonprofit when you file your nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation. The Articles of Incorporation is the primary nonprofit formation document in California.
Nominating an Agent for Service of Process Online, by Mail, or in Person
To form your California nonprofit, download Form ARTS-PB-501(c)(3) - Articles of Incorporation, fill it out in its entirety, and submit it to the California Secretary of State. This can be done by uploading a PDF version of the form online or by submitting the original form plus a copy by mail or in person. The current filing fee is $0 until June 30, 2023; the standard filing fee is $30.
You will list your agent for service of process’s name and contact details in Article 3.
How Do I Change My Nonprofit’s Agent for Service of Process in California?
To legally change your California nonprofit’s agent for service of process, include this change on your regular Form SI-100 - Statement of Information filing or submit a No Fee Statement version and submit it to the California Secretary of State. The routine Statement of Information is $20, but a Statement of Information used to change an agent for service of process has no fee.
When working in a nonprofit environment, you have more important things to focus on than checking the mail, filing legal documents, and worrying about remembering compliance deadlines. That’s what an agent for service of process can do for you. When you hire a professional registered agent service, you can leave these tasks in their capable hands and truly focus on what matters most to your organization.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who can serve as a nonprofit’s registered agent?
In the state of California, anyone 18 or older may serve as your nonprofit’s agent for service of process as long as they’re a state resident and available at their listed address during standard business hours during the week. We do, however, recommend all nonprofits use a registered agent service.
How much does a California nonprofit registered agent cost?
Although using a registered agent service can cost your nonprofit between $50 and $300 per year, it will save you time, money, and stress in the long run.
How much does it cost to change my nonprofit’s registered agent?
Depending on when you file, changing your California nonprofit’s agent for service of process with the Secretary of State costs $0 to $20.
What is a statutory agent?
A statutory agent is another name for a registered agent.
What is a resident agent?
A resident agent is another name for a registered agent.
What is a service of process agent?
A service of process agent is another name for a registered agent. California refers to its registered agents as service of process agents.
What does service of process mean?
Service of process simply means receiving legal documents, such as a court summons. A court summons is a document that requires a representative of your organization to appear before a judge because of a pending lawsuit.
What is the difference between a commercial registered agent and a noncommercial registered agent?
Most states require nonprofit owners to provide their nonprofit’s registered agent’s name and address when forming your nonprofit. In some states, you will be asked whether you are electing a commercial or noncommercial registered agent. Some states refer to professional registered agents as commercial agents and individual agents as noncommercial.