How to File Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation in Washington D.C.

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


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Getting Started

To start a domestic nonprofit corporation in Washington D.C., you must file the Articles of Incorporation of a Domestic Nonprofit Corporation (Form DNP-1). This guide covers each step you must take to fill out this document successfully and get on the right track to forming a Washington D.C. nonprofit.

Step 1: List Your Nonprofit’s Name
Step 2: Confirm Any Members 
Step 3: Choose a Registered Agent 
Step 4: Provide Any Additional Attachments
Step 5: List Your Incorporator Information
Step 6: File Formation Documents

(Check out our other guides for a look at how to start a nonprofit organization or how to file articles of incorporation in other states.)

Step 1: List Your Nonprofit’s Name

The first step to filling out the Washington D.C. Articles of Incorporation is to list your organization’s name on line one of the document. If you haven’t gone through the process of establishing a name for your organization, here are the requirements for naming a nonprofit in Washington D.C.:

  • Your nonprofit’s name must be distinguishable from any other name on record within Washington D.C., including any reserved names.
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t include any words that imply it’s related to a government agency.
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t include words like “university,” “bank,” “credit union,” or “trust” as a separate word to convey the organization is engaged in banking or trust.
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Recommended: For a step-by-step guide to naming your nonprofit corporation in Washington D.C., read our guide on How to Name a Nonprofit in Washington D.C. 

Search the Availability of Your Name

After selecting potential names — ideally, at least four or five — it’s important to search for their availability within the District of Columbia. You can do this by conducting the four recommended searches outlined below. 

Washington D.C. Business Entity Search

To operate in Washington D.C., a nonprofit corporation must have a unique name. You can easily check if your chosen name is available by performing a search using the Washington D.C. 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 2: Confirm Any Members

In Article Two, confirm whether or not your nonprofit will have members by checking the appropriate box.

Step 3: Choose a Registered Agent

A registered agent is required to file the Articles of Incorporation in Washington D.C. Either an individual or business can 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. 

Complete this section by including the name and 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 4: Provide Any Additional Attachments

In order to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, you must include some additional statements with your nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation related to its board of directors, its purpose, and its plan to distribute its assets upon dissolution. 

Here’s what you need to know to correctly disclose this information: 

Name Your Board of Directors

To qualify for 501(c)(3) status, you are required to name at least three directors of your initial board of directors as well as their mailing addresses. 

To name your initial board of directors, follow these guidelines: 

  • 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 Washington D.C. article.

List Your Nonprofit’s Purpose 

Your organization’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

Outline the Distribution of Assets Upon Dissolution

Describe how the nonprofit corporation’s assets will be distributed upon its dissolution. 

To qualify for 501(c)(3) status, your nonprofit must distribute its assets upon dissolution 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 5: List Your Incorporator Information

Each incorporator — those who complete and submit the Articles of Incorporation — must sign and list their mailing address on the formation document. If you have more than one incorporator, use an attachment.

Step 6: File Formation Documents

In Washington D.C., you can file your Articles of Incorporation for a domestic nonprofit corporation in three ways: online, by mail, or in person.

File the Washington D.C. Articles of Incorporation

OPTION 1: File Online With the Washington D.C. CorpOnline Portal

File Online

- OR -

OPTION 2: File Form DNP-1 by Mail or In Person

Download Form


Fee: $80 online and by mail, $180 in person

Mailing Address:
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Corporations Division 
P.O. Box 92300 
Washington, D.C. 20090

Office Address:
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
1100 4th Street, SW,
Washington, DC 20024

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to start a nonprofit in Washington D.C.?

Filing the Articles of Incorporation of a Domestic Nonprofit Corporation in Washington D.C. requires an $80 filing fee. 

How do I start a nonprofit in Washington D.C.?

You can file the Articles of Incorporation to start a domestic nonprofit corporation in Washington D.C. in person, by mail, or online with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Washington D.C. Nonprofit Quick Links

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