In Wisconsin, the first step to forming a “charitable organization” or non-stock corporation is to name it, which becomes official when you file in Step 5. Some rules are that it must be distinguishable and can’t imply the corporation is formed for any other purpose than stated in the Articles of Incorporation.
See sub-section four in Chapter 181 (pg. 8) of the state statutes for more information. Then, before filing be sure and conduct a Business Entity Search through the state to check for naming conflicts. If needed, you can file a Name Reservation Application form with the WI Dept. of Financial Institutions that’s good for 120 days.
Filing Fee: $15
Every non-profit organization in the state must have a Registered Agent to officially receive and help to handle/process legal paperwork like all state filings & important business forms, legal notices, etc. Basic requirements are:
A couple options are to hire a 3rd party professional and shell out up to $160/yr, or when you incorporate with IncFile or BizFilings you can get a qualified registered agent to perform “process of service” for free for your first year.
The state of Wisconsin requires your non-profit have one declared Incorporator who will be responsible for assembling the initial foundation and file Articles of Incorporation with the state/public record. You must also select a minimum of 3 temporary Directors who are tasked with overseeing the non-profit until your first meeting where official directors will be voted in.
Because of the potentially complex legal/tax nature of these entities, it’s highly suggested you work with a legal professional if possible. A good alternative that’s less expensive are modern incorporation providers who can help you understand the ins and outs of establishing a non-profit.
Incorporated non-profits must have officially declared bylaws, or in other words, rules and regulations that form the basis of your organization. For beginners, or those with no business training they can be confusing, but general topics should include:
If you want some direction and structure to follow, check out a Corporate Bylaws Template that you can use to customize around the particulars of your non-profit.
Once you and your team decide it’s time to form the initial corporation before the law and in the public record, either use Wisconsin’s Online Portal to file your non-profit Articles of Incorporation, or submit them via mail to the Sec. of State. Some data you’ll need includes:
Filing Fee: $35
While not mandatory, having physical records books is very common practice among corporations/non-profits along with cloud-based storage/computers because of the nature of these business entities. They make it possible to put all pertinent paperwork in one place to handle disputes, audits, the transition of power, and so on.
As the name of the book implies, it’s a record holder of your registration, licenses and permits, minutes of meetings, and other important documents. Grab one at a nearby office supply store, order online through Amazon, or get a professional Corporate Kit which let you brand the book/slip case, provide blank certificates, and more for as little as $99.
For your first meeting assemble incorporators/directors and get ready to establish the foundation of your non-profit. Be sure to record “minutes” of the meeting and all attendees and have it signed by directors for your records book. Topics you’ll cover will vary but should include:
If you found the bylaws template useful, check out a similar Corporate Minutes Template you can also customize and use to provide initial structure until you and your board get the hang of things should it be necessary.
An EIN is a federal “Employer” Identification Number but your non-profit is required to have one even if you don’t plan on hiring any official employees. The 9-digit number, similar to a social security number, is used to track your non-profits financial activity once you use it to set up a bank account in Step 10.
Because it’s needed by every legal business entity in America, they’re not hard to get. The quickest and easiest way is by submitting a request directly through the IRS Website.
Now’s the point to ensure your non-profit is 100% compliant in terms of not only licenses/permits, but state and federal taxes. You should be able to apply for tax exempt status now that the corporation is established.
Some other great resources to put in your bookmarks are the Milwaukee district office of the Small Business Administration and the state’s SBDC because they’re heavily connected throughout the state and can help in a variety of ways.
Once you have your EIN and have discussed it with your members/board, setup a dedicated bank account at a great banking institution/credit union. Don’t be hasty here! If you have a professional account or CFO handling it, that’s one thing. If not, do some shopping around to see which institutions have the most to offer in terms of overall services, lowered fees, etc.
Another important point is to ensure that no other accounts (business or personal) mix with your non-profits account. It should be completely separate for appropriate record keeping, getting through tax season, and then synced with your accounting software of choice.
Without very precise planning/strategy it’s likely you’ll a) lose your exempt status and b) find it incredibly difficult to attract the kind of supporters it takes to really grow a non-profit into an organization with serious impact. That being said, these days there’s amazing software solutions that simplify the process for those of us without MBAs.
If you need help putting a solid strategy together, we’re huge fans of a tool called LivePlan. It’s been used by over 400,000 entrepreneurs and offers our readers an exclusive discount when they try it out.
If you don’t already have a website published, let’s get that ball rolling. Not having a website really isn’t an option anymore and if this is all brand new to you, you’ll be surprised how affordable it can be.
Note that this article on how to form a Wisconsin non-profit organization isn’t a legal document or legal advice. It’s for informational purposes and the information above is subject to change. For specific legal questions regarding how to form a Wisconsin non-profit organization or business in general, please consult with a non-profit/corporate lawyer or other accredited professional.