Okay, so your first step is to secure a great “brand name” for your non-profit that’s unlike any other entity registered with the state. It should also reflect your mission statement vs. giving the wrong idea or coming off as deceptive. Conduct a Business Entity Search through the Sec. of State to ensure there aren’t any naming conflicts.
There are a fair amount of other state-specific stipulations that you should take the time to understand. The issue is that if the name isn’t right and accepted, your Certificate of Organization (Step 5) will be rejected. Please bookmark Article 3 in the NY statutes to get complete information on naming. If needed, you can file an Application for Reservation of Name through mail with the Division of Corps that’s good for 60 days.
Filing Fee: $20
All incorporated non-profits, along with business entities, must have a “statutory agent” or registered agent to officially receive critical paperwork on their behalf. This is so that you’ll always get them on time and there won’t be any hiccups with state filings or legal notices.
So you can hire a 3rd party professional and expect to pay up to $160/year, or get a NY Registered Agent free of charge when you incorporate through IncFile or Incorporate.com. They handle this along with much more depending on your startup package.
An incorporator, and there can be more than one, is responsible for “executing” the Certificate of Organization with the state in Step 5. Pretty simple and the only real requirement is that they be over 18 year of age. Directors on the other hand bare far more responsibility. For now you’ll be recruiting at least 3 temporary directors to oversee the organization until in Step 7, you vote in/on the official directors of the board.
This is where the process can get complex, legal-heavy with corporate formalities, so it’s a good idea to work with either a non-profit lawyer or an incorporation service who can help guide you and your team through this part of the process. If it’ll be helpful, here’s a link to the NY guidebook on Responsibilities of Directors of Non-Profit Corporations that’s got plenty of details.
Bylaws are the rules/stipulations/regulations you write for how your non-profit will be governed and managed along with the many other formalities that come along with having a board of directors vs a non-profit that’s run expressly by members or volunteers. Common bylaws cover topics like:
If this is all new to you, use this savvy Corporate Bylaws Template which you can customize for your non-profit and get an idea of the paperwork-side of bylaws.
Alright, if you’re ready to officially form your non-profit corporation in the eyes of the law and public record, be sure everything is correct with your Certificate of Organization and have your incorporators sign/file it with the state. There’s minimal instructions on the document itself, so feel free to bookmark the New York Non-Profit Incorporation guide because it outlines more details.
You can also bookmark Articles 1 through 16 in the New York Code, or statutes to get the fine print so to speak. What’s important here is that you’re ready for this step. Don’t file before you’re sure all your ducks are in a row to save time and extra costs on refiling fees.
Filing Fee: $75
While there are a variety of modern ways to track and compile your non-profit’s data (contracts, financials, important documents, etc.), what we’re talking about here is a physical records book where you keep copies of this paperwork should it become necessary. They’re very common. As common in the non-profit/corporate world as brand logos. Are they required by the state? No, they’re not required.
You can pick one up at pretty much any office supply store or online through Amazon of course, but we’re huge fans of savvy-sleek Corporate Kits which include gorgeous records books, binders, blank certificates and more which you can brand for as little as $99.
Like the Articles of Incorporation, this part of non-profit work can get very formal and complex for beginners trying to navigate the semi-corporate structure of conducting meetings, electing directors, discussing bylaws, and going through the motions so to speak. Your first meeting however should cover topics like:
Don’t forget to record “corporate minutes,” take roll call, record everyone’s name, and have it signed by all attending directors then add this to your new records book. If this is all new to you, use this savvy Corporate Bylaws Template which you can customize for your non-profit and get an idea of the paperwork-side of bylaws.
An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is a 9-digit number required by all business and non-profit entities under law in order to effectively track their financial activity. Think of it as a social security number for your non-profit, but it will also make it possible to legally hire paid employees if needed and open up a bank account in Step 10.
Almost every transaction your non-profit engages in will require an EIN. That said, you can get one quickly and free of charge by applying online through the IRS Website.
At this point your NY non-profit corporation should be established, so now it’s time to handle any licensing/permit requirements and apply for tax exempt status. While we advise consulting a lawyer, here are some steps you can take to get the ball rolling:
A couple other resources we recommend you bookmark would be the NY office of the Small Business Administration and the state’s Biz-Dev Center because they have tons to offer non-profits in terms of connecting with helpful services and other state-level organizations.
As a non-profit you’re looking for financial utility and solutions that are geared for your needs – low fees, waved expenses, great online banking options, good interest rates (if your non-profit maintains higher account balances) and other valuable services.
So, take some time to shop around at local, state and national banks/credit unions until you find the best option. Also, if you haven’t already, consider appointing a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) who’s knowledgeable and can help. If needed, check out this brief breakdown of Non-Profit Accounts to gain a better understanding and be sure to keep your non-profit account 100% separate from all others.
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.
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.
Note that this article on how to form a non-profit organization in New York 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 New York or business in general, please consult with a non-profit/corporate lawyer or other accredited professional.