Step 1) Verify & Choose A Name For Your Nonprofit
The first step toward forming a Connecticut-based nonprofit is choosing the perfect name. Your organization’s name should:
- Be distinguishable from any existing business or organization in Connecticut. This essentially means that your nonprofit’s name must be unlike any other entity name in the state.
- Contain the word “corporation”, “incorporated” or “company”, or the abbreviation “corp.”, “inc.” or “co.”
Keep in mind that your nonprofit name is the first real branding decision you’ll make, so take the time to make a wise decision. Choose a name that captures the essence of your organization and reflects your goals.
What To Do:
To find out whether or not your ideal name is available, do a name search through the Connecticut Secretary of State website.
Quick Note: Before you commit 100% to a name, you may also want to check that there’s a decent URL available for your business. Use GoDaddy to search your options. If there’s a quality domain name for purchase, we advise buying it right away. Even if launching a business website isn’t on your radar right now, it’s going to be soon, and you might as well nail down a domain name that’ll make it easy for customers to find you!
Step 2) Appoint A Registered Agent & Initial Directors
Before you can file your Certificate of Incorporation, you’ll need to select a Connecticut registered agent. A registered agent may be an individual or a corporation, as long as they’re a Connecticut resident or a business registered to operate in the state.
They’ll be in charge of receiving all important legal documents on behalf of your organization.
You are allowed to act as your own registered agent in Connecticut, but there are a few reasons why you might choose not to. For instance:
- If you don’t maintain normal (Monday through Friday, 9-5) business hours at your professional or personal address. This is mandatory for registered agents.
- If you run your nonprofit from home and you’re not comfortable making your personal address public.
- If you’re concerned about the possibility of being served in front of your family, friends or coworkers.
This is also a good time to appoint your initial directors -- although Connecticut’s Certificate of Incorporation does not ask for their names. As a Connecticut nonprofit, you’re required to have at least 3 directors on your board at all times.
When choosing directors, make it a priority to find people who share your passion and vision for the nonprofit. You can always mix up your directors down the road, but it’s still important to start off with a solid group that will help you through the initial stages of setting up your organization.
What To Do:
Take a look at our registered agent guide if you’re on the fence about acting as your own registered agent. It’s really crucial that you fully understand what’s going to be legally required of you before signing yourself up for this commitment.
Step 3) File Certificate of Incorporation
Congrats -- once you’ve filed your Certificate of Incorporation, you’ll officially be recognized as a Connecticut nonprofit corporation. The Certificate of Incorporation will ask for:
- Your nonprofit’s name and purpose
- The membership structure of your organization
- Your registered agent’s name and address
- The names, addresses and signatures of your incorporators
…and a few other pieces of relevant information.
What To Do:
Commercial Recording Division
P.O. Box 150470
Hartford, CT 06115-0470
If you file online, of course, you won’t need to send anything to the Department of Commerce -- it’ll all be taken care of electronically.
Step 4) Get An EIN
An Employer Identification Number, or EIN, is the federal government’s way of tracking your organization’s financial activity. All corporations are required to have EINs.
It’ll also be necessary when you’re setting up a bank account and filling out IRS forms, so it’s just better to plan ahead and apply as soon as possible.
What To Do:
Good news, EINs are actually easy to acquire. All you need to do is head over to the IRS website and fill out their online application. It’s 100% free and you’ll get your identification number as soon as you submit your application. We think this is the best approach because it’s the most efficient, but you can also apply for free using other methods, which we've outlined in our EIN guide.
Step 5) Meet With Directors & Discuss Bylaws
Now that you’ve filed most of the key pieces of paperwork, it’s time to start helping your organization take shape.
The organizational meeting is a crucial moment for your nonprofit when you’ll discuss some ground rules and decide how your organization will be run. When you go into this meeting, you should be prepared to establish:
- Your nonprofit bylaws
- Each director’s title and duties
- The length of directors’ terms
- When the board will meet
- Conditions for adding/amending bylaws
- What decisions may be made with/without a meeting
Establishing your nonprofit bylaws is a hugely important part of this meeting. While you’re discussing your bylaws, remember that they will serve as the governing document of the organization for years to come. Having a well-constructed set of bylaws is a surefire way to prevent and resolve disputes in the face of chaos!
What To Do:
This is a big moment for your nonprofit, so it’s best to go in fully-prepared. You can prep yourself by doing some more research on what should be included in your nonprofit bylaws, how to record meeting minutes, and the requirements that the state of Connecticut has in place for nonprofits. It’s also a good idea to take advantage of nonprofit-specific meeting minute and bylaw templates for some guidance here!
Step 6) Start A Corporate Records Book
By now you’ll have acquired quite a bit of paperwork, so naturally you’ll need a place to put it. Having all of your essential documents in one central location isn’t just beneficial for the organization of your nonprofit, it also demonstrates your professionalism. In your corporate records book, you’ll find a home for your:
- Certificate of Incorporation
- Tax forms
- Meeting minutes
…and much more.
While it’s 100% required that your organization maintains all these records, how you present them is up to you. If you just want to keep it simple, get a binder at your local office supply store and make it designated for your nonprofit’s records.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more professional presentation, you can invest in a full-fledged corporate kit. Most corporate kits include a custom seal, membership certificates, and some other unique pieces that can help you assert the legitimacy of your organization. It’s up to you to decide what your nonprofit could benefit from!
What To Do:
If you’re leaning toward getting a customized binder or corporate kit, you might take a look at Blumberg or Bindertek. They design products specifically for nonprofit corporations, which is great since nonprofits have different needs than for-profit corporations.