Choose a Business NameFirst thing’s first, you need to verify that the name you would like for your non-profit is available and acceptable under state law, and then reserve it if needed. Here’s the 1-2-3 of it:

  1. Conduct a Business Entity Search through the Sec. of State.
  2. Consult the Guide to Starting a Non-Profit in Ohio (Page 5).
  3. File a Name Reservation form to protect the name until you file Articles (Step 5).

Filing Fee: $39.00/$25.00


Choose a Registered Agent

An Ohio Registered Agent, or statutory agent, is an intermediary for your non-profit who is responsible for officially receiving and helping to handle/process important paperwork like state filings, tax forms, legal notices, and so forth. They can either be an individual Ohio citizen or any business entity, domestic or foreign, legally registered with the Secretary of State.

They’ll also need a physical street address; however, an individual agent may provide a certified P.O. Box after proving Ohio citizenship. So you can either appoint an agent or hire an outside professional and pay up to $160/year, or get one free when incorporate through business filings services like IncFile or CorpNet.


Choose the Initial DirectorsBy definition, all an incorporator does is sign and “execute” the formal Articles of Incorporation and submit them to the state. So, you’ll need at least one. As for your temporary directors, you’ll need to select/recruit a minimum of three. Among other important duties it’s their job to oversee the non-profit corporation/organization during the formation process until your first board meeting in Step 7 where official directors will be voted on/in.

If this is all brand new, be sure to print out a copy of the Ohio Guide for Charity Board Members straight from the Attorney General. It’s got tons of helpful information if you don’t have someone guiding your way through this part of the process.


Register an LLC

Incorporated non-profits need to have bylaws, or rules, that first and foremost determine how it’s governed. They also state the mission of the non-profit and steer it’s course. They are essential. Common bylaws touch on topics like:

  • How meetings are to be conducted.
  • How new officers and directors are elected.
  • How voting takes place, disputes handled, and records kept/managed.
  • Adding/Amending bylaws (any changes must be reported to the IRS after incorporation).
  • How to handle other non-profit organization formalities in the state of Ohio.

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.


Business LicensesOnce your name is secured, you have a statutory agent, and your incorporators are ready to officially form the organization, file Articles of Incorporation (domestic non-profit corp.). There are extensive filing instructions on the document itself along with plenty of expedited filing options depending on how big of a hurry you’re in.

Just do not file these until you’re ready and have all your bases covered, especially when it comes to the name. This will save you time and potential extra filing fees.


File Annual Reports & Publication Requirements

If you aren’t already familiar, a non-profit records book is where you keep physical copies of the most important paperwork – Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, Meeting Minutes, 501.c.3 IRS Approval Letter, licenses & permits, current board members list, your annual and biannual reports, etc. Not mandatory, but very common and highly advised.

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.


Hold a Meeting with Your Board of Directors

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:

  • Voting on the appointment of critical officers;
  • Voting on and approving/amending bylaws;
  • Establishing a tax year as well as an accounting period;
  • Approving initial transactions, committees, and more.

If you found the bylaws template we linked above 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.


Get an EIN for Your LLC

An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is required by both state and federal governments for essentially the same reasons individuals are required to have a SSN. It’s a nine-digit number that’s used to track business/non-profit financial activity and makes it possible to open a business bank account, hire paid-employees if needed, and so on.

Almost every transaction your non-profit engages in will require an EIN. That said, you can get one quickly, easily and free of charge by applying online through the IRS Website.


Small Business Taxes

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.

  • Download IRS FORM 1023 – Application for the Recognition of Exemption under Section 501(c)(3).
  • Or Form 1023-EZ – streamlined form but must be under $50k annual gross receipts and $250k in assets.
  • Bookmark the OH Dept. of Taxation and OANO to get more specific information.
  • If you need help, check out Business License Research packages that can handle some of the legwork.

Some other great resources to put in your bookmarks are the Columbus district office of the Small Business Administration and the C4NPR because they’re heavily connected throughout the state and can help in a large variety of ways.


Best Business Bank Account

Take some time to shop around and see which bank/credit union has the most convenience and perks to offer your organization. Don’t assume where you or any of your directors bank personally is the ideal choice. How’s their online banking? What are their free deposit/withdrawal limits? How high are their monthly fees? What kinds of incentives do they specifically offer non-profits?

Where you choose to bank is important so don’t take it lightly. If this will be your first time setting up shop, a) check out this quick breakdown of Non-Profit Accounts, and b) make sure to keep this account completely separate from all other accounts. Don’t muddy the pristine water of your financials.


Write a Business Plan

There are few things more enlightening to your entire non-profit team, and your donors and volunteers, then well-laid plans. Often non-profit core founders have the impact, visions, and goals driving them with no real focus on how to REALLY get there. Worse, non-profits fall to pieces with meager success because no foundation’s been built, no structure, to hold it and continue scaling.

A fund-ready plan is pretty straightforward actually, typically touching on core fundamentals like outreach methods, funding goals, executive summary, mission statement, programs, etc. If you need help setting all this up, we’re huge fans of a tool called LivePlan, which walks you through the entire process.


Build a Business Website

If you already have a website for your non-profit, as long as it’s mobile-friendly (responsive), you’re good to go. Websites are never done. They never stop growing and evolving as your platform does. But if you don’t have a site yet, it’s probably because you aren’t a designer and you either a) don’t have one you trust close by, b) don’t have the time for outsourcing.

The easiest place to get started is to head on over to website-builder platforms like Wix, SquareSpace and Weebly. They’re great for non-designer savvy teams and won’t break your budget.

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 Ohio 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 Ohio or business in general, please consult with a non-profit/corporate lawyer or other accredited professional.