STEP 1) SECURE NON-PROFIT NAME

Choose a Business NameOkay, first you need to secure a good name for your non-profit that’s unlike any other business name already registered with the state and that doesn’t contain restricted wording. To begin, conduct a Corporate Name Search through the state and remember that PA doesn’t require corporate designators like “Corporation” or “Inc.” 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 will protect the name for 120 days while you’re forming which gives you plenty of time.

Filing Fee: $70

STEP 2) APPOINT A REGISTERED AGENT

Choose a Registered AgentYour registered agent is there so that your non-profit 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 certified agent free when you incorporate your non-profit with a service like IncFile or BizFilings. They handle this and more depending on your startup package.

STEP 3) SELECT INCORPORATORS & DIRECTORS

Choose the Initial DirectorsAn incorporator, and 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 year of age. Directors on the other hand bare far more responsibility. For now you’ll be recruiting at least one temporary director to oversee the organization until in Step 7, you vote in the official directors of the board.

For a bit more info on directors bookmark the Handbook for Charitable Non-Profit Organizations through the PA Attorney General. Otherwise 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 and explain the finer details.

STEP 4) DRAFT NON-PROFIT BYLAWS

Register an LLCThese are the rules you stipulate that determine how your non-profit organization is governed and managed. All incorporated non-profits need them because if they aren’t in place the default Pennsylvania state statutes/codes take over which may not be the best option. If we look to the handbook linked above, in general 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 this savvy Corporate Bylaws Template which you can customize for your non-profit and get an idea of the paperwork-side of bylaws.

STEP 5) FILE ARTICLES OF INCORPORATION

Business Licenses

Once you and your team decide it’s time to form the initial corporation, file your non-profit Articles of Incorporation with the state by mail, fax, or in-person. Plenty of further instructions are on the form, but the basic information asked should include:

  • 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: $125

STEP 6) START A CORPORATE RECORDS BOOK

File Annual Reports & Publication RequirementsWhat 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 non-profit organization: formation/registration, core licenses & permits, minutes of meetings, big contracts, annual reports and taxation documents, etc.

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.

STEP 7) CONDUCT INITIAL MEETING

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 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.

STEP 8) GET AN EIN

Get an EIN for Your LLCAn EIN is very straightforward. It’s a 9-digit identifying number like a social security number but for business entities including non-profits. You’ll use it to setup 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.

STEP 9) HANDLE LICENSING & EXEMPTIONS

Small Business Taxes

At this point your 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:

  • 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 PA Dept. of Revenue and PANO in Harrisburg 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 other great sites to bookmark would be the Pittsburgh district office of the Small Business Administration and state’s SBDC page as well because they’re likely going to have tons of valuable information and connections to non-profit resources.

STEP 10) SETUP A BUSINESS BANK ACCOUNT

Best Business Bank AccountAs a non-profit, 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 & credit unions) and see who has the most to offer in terms of making your financials easier to manage.

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.

OPTIONAL) WORK ON A FUND-READY PLAN

Write a Business PlanSo you’ve taken a lot of very official steps above, but be honest, from this point forward are you and your board winging it? What kind of plans are in place right now? In the initial foundational phases, lack of really concrete planning for non-profits can be disastrous! It’s crucial to have your mission ironed out, your marketing approach somewhat refined, and your budgeting nailed down.

Then, sooner rather than later (ideally!) you’ll need to approach potential partners and volunteer groups, not to mention VC-types, or maybe even a CrowdFunding platforms for funding because running non-profits isn’t cheap, even when it’s volunteer-based.

  • Discover which Business Plan Tool creates a presentation-ready breakdown of your brand in half the time.

OPTIONAL) PUBLISH A RESPONSIVE WEBSITE

Build a Business Website

If you don’t already have a fabulous and functional website at least generating interest in your mission, then it’s time. Tackle the digital bull by the horns! The good news is that with platforms like Wix or SquareSpace or similar website-builder sites it’s much easier and less expensive. You don’t actually have to tackle the outsource economy anymore if you don’t have an in-house designer.

Another big hit is WordPress, or if you’re in eCommerce and selling something to generate money make sure and check out Shopify. In terms of ultra-beginner resources, a good place to turn is WebsiteSetup.org.

Need Help Forming Your Organization?

Have a reliable incorporation service like IncFile or LegalZoom do the work for you. Just answer a few questions about your organization and they’ll take care of the paperwork.

Visit IncFile Or Visit LegalZoom

Note that this article on how to form a non-profit organization in Pennsylvania 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 or other accredited professional.