How To Form a Pennsylvania NonProfit Organization

How to Use this Guide

To form a Nonprofit in Pennsylvania, use the step-by-step guide below or hire a professional service to do it for you:

  • Swyft Filings ($49 + state fee) for basic formation & ongoing support.
  • Rocket Lawyer ($99 + state fee) for Nonprofit formation & optional attorney advice.
  • Harbor Compliance ($1,499 + state fee) for top-to-bottom Nonprofit formation, compliance & guaranteed 501(c)(3).
John G. Webb, III
This Guide is Attorney Approved

John G. Webb, III is a licensed Pennsylvania business attorney for growing businesses.

If you'd like a legal advisor on your side, set up a free consultation.


Choose a Business Name

Okay, first you need to secure a good name for your nonprofit that’s unlike any other business name already registered with in PA and that doesn’t contain restricted wording. To begin, conduct a Corporate Name Search through the state. For more specific information regarding names, bookmark Ch.17 of the Pennsylvania Code.

If needed, you can file a Name Reservation form with the Dept. of State Bureau of Corporations & Charitable Organizations that protects the name for 120 days while you’re forming, which gives you plenty of time.

Filing Fee: $70


Choose a Registered Agent

Your registered agent is there so that your nonprofit always, and officially, receives important paperwork on time like state filings, legal notices, important tax forms, and so on. This is why they must be either a registered individual citizen or business entity in the state, have a physical street address, and be available during all regular business hours/days.

That said, you can hire an outside professional service and expect to pay up to $160/year, or get a registered agent free when you incorporate your non-profit with a service like IncFile. They handle this and more depending on your startup package.


Choose the Initial Directors

An incorporator (there can be more than one) is responsible for “executing” the Articles of Incorporation with the state in Step 5. Pretty simple and the only real requirement is that they be over 18 years of age. Directors on the other hand bear far more responsibility.

For now, you’ll be recruiting at least one temporary director to be named in the Articles of Incorporation or to be elected during the organizational meeting in Step 7.

For a bit more info on directors bookmark the Handbook for Charitable NonProfit Organizations through the PA Attorney General. Otherwise it’s a good idea to work with either a lawyer or an incorporation service who can help guide you and your team through this part of the process and explain the finer details.


Register an LLC

These are the rules you stipulate that determine how your nonprofit organization is governed and managed. All incorporated nonprofits need them because if they aren’t in place the default Pennsylvania statutes/codes take over which may not be the best option. According to the handbook linked above, in general nonprofit bylaws cover:

  • The scope of the authority that has been granted to board members and members of senior management;
  • The number of meetings that the organization must hold, the time period within which these meetings must occur (e.g., monthly, yearly, etc.), and the provisions for calling special meetings.

If this is all new to you, use a savvy Corporate Bylaws Template which you can customize for your nonprofit and get an idea of the paperwork side of bylaws.


Business Licenses

Once you and your team decide it’s time to form the corporation, file your nonprofit Articles of Incorporation with the state by mail, fax, online, or in-person along with a Docketing Statement. Plenty of further instructions are on the form, but be sure to include:

  • The name, duration of existence (if not perpetual) and statement of purpose,
  • Complete names and addresses of registered agent (and office), incorporator(s) and director(s),
  • Whether the corporation issues stock or has member(s) and,
  • A stipulation of apportioning assets to any 501(c)(3) upon termination of your organization.

Filing Fee: $125

Publication of notice of filing the Articles of Incorporation in two newspapers is also required.  For details, see these Instructions for the Articles of Incorporation or the PA Code provisions on advertising.


File Annual Reports & Publication Requirements

What we’re talking about here is a physical book, or some call it a binder, where you put copies of the most important documents that comprise your nonprofit organization: formation, registration, core licenses and permits, minutes of meetings, IRS tax-exemption confirmation, big contracts, annual reports and taxation/exemption documents, etc.

To get one for your nonprofit 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 and more for as little as $99.


Hold a Meeting with Your Board of Directors

For your first (organizational) meeting assemble the directors and get ready to establish the foundation of your nonprofit. Be sure to record “minutes” of the meeting and all attendees and have it signed by the directors for your records book. Topics you’ll cover will vary but should include:

  • Electing director(s), if directors are not named in the Articles of Incorporation,
  • Voting on the appointment of critical officers,
  • Voting on and approving/amending bylaws,
  • Establishing an accounting system,
  • Approving opening bank account(s), initial transactions, committees, and more.

If you found the bylaws template useful, check out a similar Corporate Minutes Template you can customize and use to provide initial structure until you and your board get the hang of things should amending bylaws become necessary.


Get an EIN for Your LLC

An EIN is very straightforward. It’s a 9-digit identifying number like a social security number but for business entities including nonprofits that the IRS issues. You’ll use it to set up a bank account and hire paid employees if needed. Then the appropriate agencies will use it to track your financial activity.

The quickest and easiest way to get one is by submitting a request directly through the IRS Website.


Small Business Taxes

At this point your nonprofit corporation should be established, so 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:

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

While we’re at it, a couple of other great sites to bookmark would be the Pittsburgh District Office of the Small Business Administration and Pennsylvania’s own SBDC page as well, because they’re likely going to have tons of valuable information and connections to nonprofit resources.


Best Business Bank Account

As a nonprofit, you’ll likely conduct activities and charity events to generate money/donations for your cause or mission. In essence, your relationship with money is different and can be a bit complex, which is why a business bank account is essential.

Most prominent institutions are used to working with charitable organizations so take your time to shop around (local, state, national banks and credit unions).

Don’t jump the gun here! This is critical. The differences per year from one bank to the next, relative to their other services, is important to research. If you’re interested, check out this Business Checking Accounts breakdown from some of the bigger mainstream banks for starters.

Need Help Forming a Nonprofit?

Use one of these reliable Nonprofit filing services & have all paperwork handled on your behalf. Each service offers a different level of features and pricing but all take care of Nonprofit formation. No matter which you choose, you’ll be in good hands.

Swyft Filings
  • Pricing Starts at

  • Unknown Businesses Formed

  • Perfect for:
    Anyone starting on a budget and need basic Nonprofit formation

Visit Website
Rocket Lawyer
  • Pricing Starts at

  • 10,000+ Businesses Formed

  • Perfect for:
    Anyone wanting the choice of basic Nonprofit formation or a suite of online legal services

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Harbor Compliance
  • Pricing Starts at

  • 10,000+ Businesses Formed

  • Perfect for:
    Anyone wanting comprehensive Nonprofit formation and on-going compliance

Visit Website

Note that this guide on forming a Pennsylvania nonprofit 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 non-profit organization in Pennsylvania or business in general, please consult with a non-profit/corporate lawyer. We recommend JGW INcounsel.