How to File Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation in Wisconsin

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

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Getting Started

Step 1: List Your Nonprofit’s Name

The first step to filling out your Wisconsin Articles of Incorporation is to 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 Wisconsin:

  • Your nonprofit’s name must be distinguishable from any other name on record within the state of Wisconsin, including any reserved names. 
  • Your nonprofit’s name must include an identifier, such as “company,” “incorporated,” “corporation,” “limited partnership,” “partnership,” or any equivalent abbreviation.
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t imply it serves another purpose or intent other than what’s stated in the Articles of Incorporation.
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Recommended: For a step-by-step guide to naming your nonprofit corporation in Wisconsin, read our guide on How to Name a Nonprofit in Wisconsin.

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.

Wisconsin Corporate Records Search

To operate in Wisconsin, a nonprofit corporation must have a unique name. You can easily check if your chosen name is available by performing a search using the Wisconsin corporate records 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: Choose a Registered Agent

A registered agent is required to complete the Articles of Incorporation in Wisconsin. Either an individual or an entity on record with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions 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 name itself as its own registered agent

To complete Articles Three and Four, include the following information:

  • Your registered agent’s name
  • Your registered office address (You may include a P.O. Box in the same city/town, but that’s insufficient by itself.)
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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: Provide Your Nonprofit’s Principal Office Address

In this section, provide the address of your nonprofit corporation’s principal office. The principal office is wherever the corporation determines its principal business activities will take place.

Step 4: Confirm Any Members

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

Step 5: Disclose Your Nonprofit’s Policy for Distributions

Disclose whether or not your nonprofit corporation is authorized to make distributions under sec. 181.1302(4) by checking the applicable box in this section.

Step 6: Provide Any Additional Attachments

In order to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, you must include some additional statements in your nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation. Because the Wisconsin formation document doesn’t include sections related to your nonprofit’s purpose, the initial board of directors, or asset distribution upon its dissolution, use an attachment labeled “Article 8” (and higher, if necessary) to provide details on these topics.

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

Describe Your Nonprofit’s Purpose

Describe the purpose for forming your nonprofit corporation. For your nonprofit to be eligible for 501(c)(3) status, its purpose 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

Name Your Initial Board of Directors

Provide the name and address of each director who’ll serve on your organization’s initial board of directors. In order to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, you 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 Wisconsin article.

Outline the Distribution of Assets Upon Dissolution

Describe how your nonprofit corporation will distribute its assets upon 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.

(Optional) Indicate an Effective Date for Your Filing

If you prefer to delay the date on which your filing takes effect, provide that date in article eight. Your delayed effective date may be no more than 90 days after the received date. Otherwise, your Articles of Incorporation will take effect upon their filing.

Step 7: List Your Incorporator Information

An incorporator is any person who participates in the completion and submission of the Articles of Incorporation. You must include the name and address of each incorporator in this formation document. At least one incorporator also must sign the document, but, if desired, you may include the signatures of all the incorporators. 

Step 8: Provide a Return Address

Provide an email or mailing address where you want to receive the filed copy of your formation documents.

Step 9: File Formation Documents

You can file your Wisconsin Articles of Incorporation in two ways: 

File the Wisconsin Articles of Incorporation

OPTION 1: File Online With the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions

File Online

- OR -

OPTION 2: File Form 102 by Mail

Download Form

Fee: $35

Mailing Address:
WI – Dept. of Financial Institutions 
P.O. Box 93348 
Milwaukee, WI 53293-0348

Frequently Asked Questions

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

Filing the Articles of Incorporation - Non-Stock, Not for Profit Corporation in Wisconsin costs $35.

How do I get copies of my Articles of Incorporation in Wisconsin?

You may order copies of your Wisconsin Articles of Incorporation in three ways:

How do I find nonprofits in Wisconsin?

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

Wisconsin Nonprofit Quick Links

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