How to File Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation in Iowa

Starting a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Iowa is easy — and the first task is filing your Articles of Incorporation. This guide will walk you through the 10 steps required to file the Articles of Incorporation to officially start a nonprofit in Iowa.


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Getting Started

To start a domestic nonprofit corporation in Iowa, you must draft your own Articles of Incorporation using the guidelines set forth in the Revised Iowa Nonprofit Corporation Act §504.202. This guide covers each step you must take to draft this document successfully and get on the right track to forming an Iowa nonprofit.

Step 1: List Your Nonprofit’s Name

The first step in drafting your Iowa Articles of Incorporation is to list your organization’s name. If you haven’t gone through the process of establishing a name for your organization, here are the requirements for naming a nonprofit in Iowa:

  • Your nonprofit’s name must be distinguishable from any other name on record within the state of Iowa, including any reserved names.
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t imply a purpose other than what’s stated in the organization’s Articles of Incorporation.
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Recommended: For a step-by-step guide to naming your nonprofit corporation in Iowa, read our guide on How to Name a Nonprofit in Iowa.

Search the Availability of Your Name

After selecting potential names — ideally, at least four or five — it’s important to search for their availability in your state. You can do this by conducting the four recommended searches outlined below, or use our 501(c)(3) Lookup Table.

Iowa Business Entities Search
To operate in Iowa, a nonprofit corporation must have a unique name. You can easily check if your chosen name is available by performing a search using the Iowa Business Entities Search tool.

Domain Name Search
We strongly recommend that you also check to see if your business name is available as a web domain (URL). Even if you don't plan to create a business website today, you may want to buy the web address to prevent others from acquiring that domain name. It’s a free search.

Find a Domain Now

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Federal Trademark Search
You can easily check if someone already trademarked your chosen nonprofit name by using the federal Trademark Electronic Search System. This is important even if you don’t plan to form your nonprofit right away.

Once you confirm that no one else already trademarked your chosen name, you can apply for a trademark for your nonprofit.

Web and Social Media Search
A strong social media presence will play a key role in expanding your reach to potential donors as well as clients that will use your services. That makes it important to search the web and popular social media platforms for your desired name before registering it to ensure it’s available on all the platforms where you plan to promote your organization.

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent

A registered agent is required to file the Articles of Incorporation in Iowa. An Iowa resident, an Iowa profit or nonprofit corporation, or a foreign profit or nonprofit corporation authorized to do business in Iowa may fill this role. A registered agent’s responsibilities include accepting and forwarding service of process documents for the corporation as well as serving as a point of contact for the entity. Your corporation can’t serve as its own registered agent.

Requirements for this section include:

  • The name of your chosen registered agent
  • The street address of your chosen registered agent
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Recommended: Using an affordable registered agent service offers many benefits. For more information on choosing a registered agent service, read our full guide.

Step 3: List Your Incorporator Information

An incorporator is any person who participates in the completion and submission of the Articles of Incorporation. Each incorporator must list their name and address in this formation document.

Step 4: Confirm Any Members

State whether or not your nonprofit will have members.

Step 5: Outline the Distribution of Assets Upon Dissolution

Distribution of your nonprofit’s assets upon its dissolution must be for approved, tax-exempt purposes only. For more information about the requirements of dissolution and 501(c)(3) status, refer to the sixth section of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS’) suggested language for corporations and associations.

Step 6: Describe Your Nonprofit’s Purpose

Your nonprofit’s purpose must include one or more of the following characteristics to be eligible for 501(c)(3) status:

  • Charitable
  • Religious
  • Educational
  • Scientific
  • Literary
  • Testing for public safety
  • Fostering national/international amateur sports competition
  • Preventing cruelty to animals/children

Step 7: Name Your Initial Board of Directors

In order to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, you must list the names and addresses of at least three directors in your nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation.

When listing your nonprofit’s initial board of directors, follow these requirements:

  • Don’t include any prefixes, such as “Mr.” or “Ms.”
  • If applicable, use titles of lineage.
  • If applicable, use designations like “M.D.” or “Ph.D.”

For a complete guide to forming your nonprofit’s board of directors, read our How to Develop a Board of Directors for a Nonprofit in Iowa article.

Step 8: Include Any Supplemental Provisions

Include any supplemental provisions applicable to your nonprofit, such as those relating to:

  • Managing and regulating the affairs of the corporation. These may include:
    • Defining or regulating powers of the corporation, its board of directors, and members or any class of members.
    • Managing the characteristics, qualifications, rights, limitations, and obligations of each — or any class — of members.
  • Eliminating or limiting the liability of directors or members for money damages for any action taken, or any failure to take any action, as a director, except for any circumstances listed in the Articles of Incorporation guide.
  • Permitting or requiring the nonprofit to compensate a director for liability except for any circumstances listed in the Articles of Incorporation guide.

Note: Any supplemental provisions included in your nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation also must appear in its bylaws.

Step 9: Sign the Document

Only one incorporator must sign the Articles of Incorporation.

Step 10: File Formation Documents

There are three ways to file your Articles of Incorporation in Iowa: online, by mail, or by fax.

File the Iowa Articles of Incorporation

OPTION 1: File Online With Iowa Fast Track Filing

File Online

- OR -

OPTION 2: File by Mail

Download Form


Fee: $20

Mailing Address:
Secretary of State, Business Services
Lucas Building, 1st Floor
Des Moines, IA 50319

Fax: (515) 242-5953

Note: Fax filings must include a Credit Card Authorization Form

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I start a nonprofit organization in Iowa?

To start a nonprofit organization in Iowa, you must file the Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State either online or by mail. If you choose to file by mail, use this guide to drafting the Articles of Incorporation.

How much does it cost to start a nonprofit in Iowa?

The fee to file the Articles of Incorporation for a domestic nonprofit corporation is $20.

How do I find nonprofits in Iowa?

Use our handy Iowa 501(c)(3) Lookup Table to find nonprofits in Iowa. You can use this tool to see if your preferred nonprofit name is in use or not.

Iowa Nonprofit Quick Links

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