Choose a Business NameThe first step to securing an official name for your non-profit is to check and see if the one you really have your heart set on has already been filed with the state – by a DBA, LLC, Corp, Trademark, etc. To check for naming conflicts conduct a Business Entity Search or as many as you need until you’re sure it’s unique. You’ll find specific info in the §414D-61 statute on corporate naming.

If needed, you may be able to have it reserved on the state level to protect it by filing an Application for Reservation of Name.

Filing Fee: $10


Choose a Registered AgentAs a legal business entity you’ll need a Hawaii Registered Agent, or statutory agent, who is responsible for officially receiving critical notices and copies of important paperwork on behalf of your non-profit – legal notices, tax forms, state-level contracts, etc. They must be a Hawaii resident/citizen or registered business entity with a “registered office” at a physical Hawaii street address that hold regular M-F business hours.

You can hire an outside professional service and pay $160/year or get an agent free of charge when you incorporate with IncFile or BizFilings. They handle this and much more depending on your startup package


Choose the Initial DirectorsAs long as they’re an adult, anyone willing to represent your non-profit can act as an Incorporator and “execute” your Articles. The duties and responsibilities of Directors are far more substantial. You’ll need to appoint 3 initial directors to preside over the non-profit until it is formed. Then, in Step 7 you’ll vote on and establish the process by which officially elected directors take there place.

No matter what, you’ll always need to have at least 3 directors to stay within the law. That said, this part can be complex so don’t be afraid to turn to a professional incorporation services experienced in working with new non-profits or a specialized attorney. Directors and these formalities should be clearly understood.


Register an LLC

You can’t have an incorporated non-profit without formal documented bylaws which according to the Hawaii Non-Profit Corporation Act, “The bylaws may contain any provision for regulating and managing the affairs of the corporation that is not inconsistent with law or the articles of incorporation.” Some of the issues covered should include:

  • The frequency and process by which you holding meetings,
  • How you electing/appoint new officers and directors,
  • How you keep and manage records (see Step 6),
  • Adding/Amending bylaws,
  • How to handle other corporate formalities required in Hawaii.

Be sure to print out this savvy Corporate Bylaws Template so you can begin putting your initial bylaws together. They’re be voted and adopted in Step 7. If there are any changes or amendments to those stated in your Articles you’ll need to notify the right authorities so they can be reflected on the public record.


Business LicensesFiling a Articles of Incorporation establishes your non-profit corporate entity in the eyes of the law and Hawaii public record. Some is basic information, but you must have other language that differentiates your non-profit from a for-profit corporation as well:

  • The name, type, duration of existence, and statement of purpose (provisions for non-profit vs corp);
  • Complete names & addresses of registered agent (and office), incorporators, and directors.
  • Any specific provisions/bylaws set forth as part of the internal operations of your organization.
  • A stipulation of apportioning assets to any 501(c)(3) upon termination of your organization.

Filing Fee: $25 + $10 for Certified Copy


File Annual Reports & Publication RequirementsWhile it’s true that data tracking and storage has for the most part gone digital, and the cloud is all the rage, what we’re referring to here is a traditional hard cover book or binder where all the most critical paperwork – state registration and filing documents, important contracts, licenses, meeting minutes, and so on. It’s not required by any means, but par for the course with non-profit and for-profit corps.

To get one for your non-profit you can grab a quality records book at any nearby office supply store, order them 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.


Hold a Meeting with Your Board of DirectorsYour first meeting with your initial directors marks the official beginning of your non-profit! This is a critical time where the very foundation is laid upon which all the good work you do with your team will be built. Please refer to section VII. Members’ Meetings, and Voting within the law for some direction. Otherwise, common topics include:

  • Assigning initial officers and outlining their responsibilities;
  • Agreeing on or choosing to amend bylaws;
  • Formally choosing a tax year, accounting period, and where to setup a bank account.

You’ll need to record “minutes” of the meeting and have it signed by all attending directors. If you found the other template we showed you in Step 5 helpful then go ahead and print out this Corporate Minutes Template you can customize and use to get the ball rolling.


Get an EIN for Your LLCWhat’s an EIN (also called an FEIN, or TIN) and what’s it for? First, it’s a 9-digit number the IRS assigns to your non-profit to allow you to smoothly file taxes and to track your financial activity to ensure compliance with non-profit tax laws. You can also use it to open an official bank account, legally hire paid employees if applicable and apply for certain licenses/permits.

That said, you can get one quickly, easily and free of charge by applying online through the IRS Website.


Small Business Taxes

Now it’s time to ensure compliance on local, state, and federal levels and apply for exemptions in the process. Do keep in mind your non-profit will be subject to conventional Hawaii gambling laws.

Also, if you don’t have a legal team or attorney yet and you’re having a hard time assessing what licenses and paperwork you’ll need, be sure to bookmark the Honolulu Small Business Administration office and the Dept. of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Business Registration page.


Best Business Bank AccountIf you browse through this list of Top 10 Checking Accounts for Non-Profits you’ll notice a few specific traits, and in many ways they determined how rough your non-profit’s journey will be in the first 2-5 years:

  • Solutions: where you choose to bank should have solutions that address your unique platform.
  • Variable Fees: focus on your volume demands as they typically start small and then scale over time.
  • Incentives: there are tons of incentives, kickbacks, and other financial services to consider.

And remember, your non-profit’s financials should be completely separated from accounts of any other kind and have strict access controls in place as well.


Write a Business Plan

Unlike other types of businesses, non-profits tend to need funding pretty early on which is why “funding-ready” plans are much more prevalent. What this means is that the basics are clearly refined and set down in a nice presentable plan ready to show investors, VCs, lending institutions, volunteers, donators, potential partner organizations, etc.

From marketing and budgeting, to competitive analysis and financial forecasts, these folks want to be able to quickly assess the core fundamentals of your platform. To build a solid plan, we are huge fans of LivePlan which will walk you through the entire process. Plus they offer our readers a special discount.


Build a Business Website

In our (humble) opinion every non-profit needs to make digital marketing part of their growth strategy and put emphasis into building a digital presence for a large variety of reasons. They begin with, a) social media properties connected to, b) your core web page, landing page, store, or agency-style site.

There’s a lot of options to get running smoothly if you don’t have an in-house designer, for example Wix or Weebly. Both are extremely easy to use and cost effective so you can build a professional website while saving money to make a more positive impact.

Need Help Forming Your Organization?

Have a reliable non-profit filing service like Swyft Filings or LegalZoom do the work for you. Just answer a few questions about your organization and they’ll take care of the paperwork.

Visit Swyft Filings Or Visit LegalZoom

 Note that this article on how to form a non-profit organization in Hawaii 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 non-profit organization in Hawaii or business in general, please consult with a lawyer or other accredited professional.