How to File Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation in Pennsylvania

Starting a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Pennsylvania is easy — and the first task is filing your Articles of Incorporation. This guide will walk you through the 12 steps required to file the Articles of Incorporation to officially start a nonprofit in Pennsylvania.

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Getting Started

Step 1: Provide a Return Address

The first step to filling out your Pennsylvania Articles of Incorporation is to provide the name and address of the person to whom the state should return your formation documents. 

Step 2: List Your Nonprofit’s Name

Next, list your nonprofit corporation’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 Pennsylvania:

  • Your nonprofit’s name must be distinguishable from any other name on record within the state of Pennsylvania, including any reserved names. 
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t include any words or phrases considered grossly offensive. 
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t imply the organization is affiliated with a government agency or public utility company.
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t include words or phrases that imply it’s a financial institution, such as “bank and trust,” “bank,” “trust,” or “trust company.” 
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t include words or phrases that imply it’s an educational institution, such as “university,” “college,” or “seminary.”
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t include words or phrases that imply it’s an insurance company, such as “casualty,” “annuity,” or “insurance.”
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t include words or phrases associated with a specific profession, such as “public accountant,” “certified public accountant,” “architect,” “surveyor,” “engineer,” “pharmacist,” or “homeopathic.”
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t use any words or phrases associated with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) nor can it include words or phrases that imply the organization is associated with the YMCA unless proper regulations have been followed. 
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Recommended: For a step-by-step guide to naming your nonprofit corporation in Pennsylvania, read our guide on How to Name a Nonprofit in Pennsylvania

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.

Pennsylvania Business Entity Search

To operate in Pennsylvania, a nonprofit corporation must have a unique name. You can easily check if your chosen name is available by performing a search using the Pennsylvania business entity 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

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 incorporate 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 3: Choose a Registered Office

A registered office is required to file the Articles of Incorporation in Pennsylvania. A registered office accepts and forwards service of process documents for the corporation. Unlike most states, Pennsylvania doesn’t record registered agent names.

Requirements for this section include (complete part A or part B, but not both):

  • The address of your corporation’s current registered office
  • Or, the name and county location of your corporation’s commercial registered office provider
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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 4: Describe Your Nonprofit’s Purpose

For your nonprofit to be eligible for 501(c)(3) status, its purpose for forming must include one or more of the following characteristics: 

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

Step 5: Confirm Any Authorized Stock

Confirm whether or not your nonprofit corporation will issue stock. If you organize your nonprofit corporation on a stock share basis, you also must list the total number of authorized shares in this section. 

Step 6: Confirm a Majority Vote to Incorporate

This section only applies to unincorporated associations incorporating as nonprofit corporations. If applicable to your organization, place a checkmark here to indicate the incorporators constitute a majority of the members of the committee authorized to incorporate the association by the requisite vote required by the organic law of the association.

Step 7: Confirm Any Members

Confirm whether or not your nonprofit corporation will have members by checking the appropriate option in this section. 

Step 8: Provide Information for a Nonprofit Cooperative (If Applicable)

This section only applies to nonprofit cooperative corporations. If applicable to your organization, select the appropriate option to indicate if the entity will have members or shareholders. Then, provide information regarding the common bond of membership between your nonprofit cooperative corporation and its members or shareholders.

Step 9: List Your Incorporator Information

An incorporator is any person who participates in the completion and submission of the Articles of Incorporation. This section must include the name and address of each incorporator, and all incorporators also must sign this formation document. 

Step 10: Choose an Effective Date for Your Filing

The effective date of your Articles of Incorporation will be the date you file them unless you list a different date in this section. Leave this section blank if you want your formation documents to take effect upon filing.

Step 11: Provide Any Additional Attachments

In order for your nonprofit to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, you must include some additional statements with your Articles of Incorporation. Because the Pennsylvania formation document doesn’t include sections related to the distribution of assets upon dissolution or your initial board of directors, use an attachment to provide details on both topics. 

Here’s what you need to know to successfully complete this attachment: 

Outline the Distribution of Assets Upon Dissolution 

Describe how your nonprofit corporation will distribute its assets upon dissolution. 

Distribution of assets upon 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.

Name Your Initial Board of Directors 

To qualify for 501(c)(3) status, your nonprofit must have at least three directors. 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 Pennsylvania article.

Step 12: File Formation Documents

You can file your Pennsylvania Articles of Incorporation in two ways: online or by mail.

File the Pennsylvania Articles of Incorporation

OPTION 1: File Online With the PA Business One-Stop Hub

File Online

- OR -

OPTION 2: File by Mail

Download Form

Fee: $125

Mailing Address:
Pennsylvania Department of State 
Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations 
P.O. Box 8722 
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8722

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I incorporate a nonprofit in Pennsylvania?

You can incorporate a nonprofit in Pennsylvania by filing the Articles of Incorporation - Nonprofit with the Department of State by mail or online

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

Filing the Articles of Incorporation for a Pennsylvania nonprofit costs $125.

How do I get a copy of my Articles of Incorporation in Pennsylvania?

You may obtain copies of most business filings via the Pennsylvania Department of State’s online portal.

How do I find nonprofits in Pennsylvania?

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

Pennsylvania Nonprofit Quick Links

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