How to File Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation in Washington

Starting a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Washington is easy — and the first task is filing your Articles of Incorporation. This guide will walk you through the 11 steps required to file the Articles of Incorporation to officially start a nonprofit in Washington.


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Getting Started

Step 1: Provide Your UBI Number

The first step to filling out your Washington Articles of Incorporation is to provide your nine-digit Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number. It’s only required if you already have a UBI number as a result of filing with another state agency, such as the Department of Revenue, the Department of Labor & Industries, or the Employment Security Department. 

Otherwise, check the “no” box in this section and the state will issue you a UBI number once you successfully file 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 Washington:

  • Your nonprofit’s name must be distinguishable from any other name on record within the state of Washington, including any reserved names.
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t use the term “public benefit organization” unless it’s deemed a public benefit organization by the Secretary of State. 

Recommended: For a step-by-step guide to naming your nonprofit corporation in Washington, read our guide on How to Name a Nonprofit in Washington.

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.

Washington Charities and Corporations Search

To operate in Washington, a nonprofit corporation must have a unique name. Unlike other states, Washington provides a charities search as well as a corporations search — both of which you can easily use to confirm the availability of your chosen name.

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.

File for a Name Reservation 

In Washington, domestic nonprofit corporations are not required to file for a name reservation before incorporation. If you do choose to reserve a name, however, you must indicate that you’ve done so by checking the appropriate box in this section and including the name reservation number. 

To file a name reservation in the state of Washington, submit a Name Reservation form to the Washington Secretary of State along with the $20 filing fee.

Name reservations for nonprofit corporations in Washington last 180 days and can be renewed once they expire.

Step 3: Describe Your Nonprofit’s Purpose

In this section, describe the purpose for forming your nonprofit corporation. That purpose must include one or more of the following characteristics for your nonprofit 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 4: Disclose Your Nonprofit’s Duration

Most incorporators form their nonprofit corporations form without a specific duration in mind. If this applies to your organization, check the “perpetual” box in this section. Otherwise, list your nonprofit’s specific end date or the number of years it will exist and check the corresponding box.

Step 5: Choose an Effective Date for Your Filing

Check the appropriate box to indicate your preferred effective date for this filing. It could either be the date you file this document or another date within 90 days of its filing. If you choose a delayed effective date, you also must specify that date in this section.

Step 6: Choose a Registered Agent

A registered agent is required to complete the Articles of Incorporation in Washington. A commercial registered agent, an individual, a business entity, or an office/position within your corporation 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.

To complete this section, include the following information:

  • Commercial Registered Agent: If your registered agent is a commercial registered agent, indicate this by checking the “yes” box at the top of this section and providing their name.
  • Individual: If your registered agent is an individual resident of Washington who’s not a commercial registered agent, check the corresponding box and provide their name, phone number, email address, street address, and mailing address (optional). 
  • Business Entity: If your registered agent is an entity authorized to engage in business in the state of Washington, check the corresponding box and provide the entity’s name, phone number, email address, street address, and mailing address (optional).
  • Office or Position: If your registered agent holds an office or position within your organization (e.g., secretary, member, or treasurer), check the corresponding box and provide their office or position, phone number, email address, street address, and mailing address (optional).

All registered agents must consent to their appointment by providing their signature, their printed name/title, and the date at the bottom of this section.

Recommended: Using an affordable registered agent service offers many benefits. For more information on choosing a registered agent service, read our full guide.

Step 7: Name Your Initial Board of Directors

In this section, name your initial board of directors and provide an address for each. In order to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, you must have at least three directors. If you have more than three initial directors, use an attachment to provide the additional names and addresses.

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 article.

Step 8: Outline the Distribution of Assets Upon Dissolution

Describe how your nonprofit will distribute its net assets in the event of its 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.

Note: This section can’t take the form of an attachment or simply refer to the nonprofit’s bylaws.

Step 9: (Optional) Provide a Return Address for Your Filing

If you want the state to send documents related to this filing somewhere in addition to your registered agent’s address, then provide a return address in this optional section.

Step 10: List Your Incorporator Information

An incorporator is any person who participates in the completion and submission of the Articles of Incorporation. You must provide the name, address, and signature of each incorporator. Use an attachment if you have more than one incorporator.

Step 11: File Formation Documents

You can only file your Washington Articles of Incorporation by mail.

File the Washington Articles of Incorporation

File the Articles of Incorporation by Mail

Download Form

Fee: $30

Mailing Address:
Corporations & Charities Division 
P.O. Box 40234 
Olympia, WA 98504-0234

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Articles of Incorporation in Washington?

In Washington, the Articles of Incorporation is a formation document you must use to start a corporation. Each document varies based on the type of corporation you want to form.

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

Filing the Articles of Incorporation – Washington Nonprofit Corporation costs $30.

How do I find nonprofits in Washington?

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

Washington Nonprofit Quick Links

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