How To Form a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit In Florida

How to Use this Guide

Use the guide below to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Florida. Keep in mind that the process requires forming a nonprofit corporation and getting tax-exempt status with the IRS.

Since the overall process is extremely complex, we highly recommend consulting with an attorney or using a service like Harbor Compliance for personalized top-to-bottom nonprofit formation and obtaining IRS 501(c)(3) status.

Step 1) Verify & Choose A Name For Your Nonprofit

Choose a Business NameFirst things first, you’ll need to choose the perfect name to represent your nonprofit. Your organization’s name should:

  • Be distinguishable from any existing business or organization in Florida. Essentially, this means that your nonprofit cannot have the same name as any other entity that’s registered in Florida.
  • Include one of the following suffixes, depending on the nature of the nonprofit: Corporation, Incorporated, Corp, Inc, Cooperative or Co-op.

Feel free to check out Florida’s nonprofit corporation name statutes for more details.

Keep in mind that your nonprofit’s name is the first big branding decision you’ll make for the organization, so we recommend thinking long and hard on exactly what you want your brand name to communicate. Decide on a name that represents your organization’s central message and will attract other individuals who have a passion your cause!

 

What To Do:

To find out whether or not your desired brand name is available, run a quick entity name search here. You may also want to search GoDaddy for a good domain name at this time, even if you’re not planning on creating a website right away.

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!

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Step 2) Appoint A Registered Agent & Initial Directors

Choose a Registered AgentBefore you can file your Articles of Incorporation, you’ll need to choose a registered agent. Your registered agent may be an individual who’s a resident of Florida, or a business that’s registered to operate in the state. They’ll be in charge of receiving important legal documents on your behalf, including tax forms and service of process notices.

You may choose to act as your own registered agent in Florida, but there are a few things to think about before committing to this responsibility. For example:

  • You’ll need to maintain normal (M-F, 9-5) business hours at your work or home address.
  • If you work from home, you’ll be making your personal address public.
  • You may risk being served in front of family, friends or customers.

This is also a good time to nail down your initial board of directors, since their names will be requested on your Articles of Incorporation. Florida requires you to appoint at least three directors and/or corporate officers. Technically, you may wait to appoint your directors, but amending the Articles of Incorporation costs an extra fee — so it’s a good idea to get it out of the way at the original time of filing.

 

What To Do:

When choosing directors, your priority should be finding people who share a passion for your mission and have some degree of business experience. Your board of directors may change over time, but it’s important to have reliable, dedicated individuals working on the organization in its early stages.

Have a quick read through our guide if you’re considering acting as your own registered agent. It’s important that you fully understand what’s legally required of you before signing up for this task. On the other hand, if you’d prefer to go the third-party professional route, I’d recommend Harbor Compliance’s registered agent services. They include a year free in their comprehensive 501(c)(3) formation package!

Step 3) File Articles Of Incorporation

Business LicensesThis is a huge step for your organization — once you’ve filed the Articles of Incorporation you’ll be officially recognized as a Florida nonprofit corporation (although not a 501(c)(3), yet)!

Florida’s nonprofit Articles of Incorporation will ask you to provide:

  • The organization’s full corporate name (including suffix)
  • The purpose of the organization
  • The principal street address (and mailing address, if different)
  • The incorporator’s name and address
  • The names, titles and addresses of your directors/officers (minimum three)
  • Your registered agent’s name, street address and signature
  • Effective date

…and a few other pieces of information about your nonprofit.

You may choose to file online or on paper depending on your personal preference. Once everything has been properly filled out, simply submit the online form or mail your document to the following address:

Department of State

Division of Corporations

P.O. Box 6327

Tallahassee, FL 32314

Whichever route you choose, you’ll have to take care of the $70.00 filing fee!

 

What To Do:

While the DIY approach we’ve just discussed is certainly an option, we really do recommend leveraging the comprehensive nonprofit formation services offered by providers like Harbor Compliance. Harbor Compliance is one of the only online filing companies out there that will handle your formation documents, federal tax-exemption and registered agent services.

Keep in mind that while you may be able to handle the Articles of Incorporation on your own, applying for 501(c)(3) status is very complicated, so getting professional help is pretty much essential.

Step 4) Get An EIN

Get an EIN for Your BusinessNow that you’ve filed your Articles of Incorporation, it’s time to get an EIN. An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is used by the federal government to track your organization’s financial activity. As a nonprofit seeking 501(c)(3) status, your finances will be under even more scrutiny than a for-profit corporation.

I definitely recommend getting your EIN before making any major financial moves. It’s a  requirement for setting up a business bank account and filling out most IRS forms, so plan ahead and get this taken care of promptly.

 

What To Do:

The good news is the application process is fairly hassle-free. All you need to do is head over to the IRS website and fill out their online application. It’s completely free and you’ll get your identification number as soon as you’ve filled out all of the required fields.

We recommend the online option most because of its efficiency, but if this approach doesn’t suit you, we’ve outline others in our EIN guide. Also, keep in mind that if you’re planning to purchase a comprehensive 501(c)(3) formation package, you’ll have this part taken care of for you!

Step 5) Meet With Directors & Discuss Bylaws

Choose the Initial DirectorsNow it’s time to schedule your first meeting with your board of directors. This organizational meeting represents a turning point for your organization, where you and your directors have the opportunity to really tailor-make your nonprofit.

You should plan on discussing pretty much every aspect of how the organization will be run, including:

  • Each director’s title and duties
  • The length of directors’ terms
  • How often the board will meet
  • Conditions for adding/amending bylaws
  • What decisions can be made with/without a meeting
  • Your banking resolution

During this meeting, you should also record your first meeting minutes and spend a substantial amount of time constructing your nonprofit bylaws. Your bylaws will serve as the primary governing document of the organization!

 

What To Do:

You’re about to make a number of significant decisions for your nonprofit, so don’t go into this meeting unprepared. Do some research on what should be included in your nonprofit bylaws, as well as how to record meeting minutes. Taking advantage of nonprofit meeting minute and bylaw templates is a great way to start your research, as they’ll give you an idea of the key topics to address.

Step 6) Start A Corporate Records Book

File Annual Reports & Publication RequirementsAt this point you’ve acquired a number of important documents, and it’s time to create a safe place to store them. While having a corporate records book isn’t a legal requirement, it’s essential that you have a safe, organized place to house things like your:

  • Articles of Incorporation
  • EIN
  • Tax forms
  • Nonprofit bylaws
  • Meeting minutes
  • Banking resolution

… and any other essential documents you can’t risk losing.

If you’re looking for a basic approach, you may choose to opt for a simple binder designated for your nonprofit’s records. On the other hand, you may want to invest in a full-on nonprofit corporate kit. Most corporate kits include things like a custom seal, membership certificates, printed bylaws, and some other unique pieces.

 

What To Do:

It’s totally possible to find a sufficient corporate records binder at a local office supply store. However, if you’re considering a professional corporate kit, you might want to take a look at Blumberg or Bindertek’s products. They have options specifically for nonprofit corporations!

Step 7) Apply For Tax Exemption

Small Business TaxesApplying for federal tax exemption is by far the most intensive part of forming your 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The application itself is the most time-consuming document you’ll encounter, and comes with the longest waiting period — so it’s important to get it right the first time around.

Depending on the size and scale of your nonprofit (as well as a few other factors), you’ll either have to fill out Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ. The EZ version is a considerably shorter, more streamlined option. It also has a quicker turnaround time, so it’s worth checking to see if your organization qualifies.

To find out which form you should use, open up the Form 1023-EZ Instructions and scroll down to the Eligibility Worksheet on page 11. If you answer “yes” to any of the questions, you’ll need to apply using the full-length form. Otherwise, you can take advantage of the EZ version!

 

What To Do:

As I mentioned, applying for federal tax-exemption is an incredibly time-consuming process, so it’s important that you seek out legal assistance.

Whether you choose to work with a reputable online filing provider or collaborate with an attorney, the important thing is that you have a knowledgeable professional holding your hand throughout this process. Both approaches require a fairly significant financial investment, but it’ll be well-worth it to know that your tax-exempt status is guaranteed!

Step 8) Set Up A Bank Account & Manage Finances

Best Business Bank AccountNow that you’ve handled all the legal obligations above, it’s time to open up a bank account and start properly managing your organization’s finances!

Ideally you and your directors will have settled on a bank during your organizational meeting, basing your decision on the following criteria:

  • Customer service
  • National ATM accessibility
  • Online features
  • Minimum account balances
  • Nonprofit-specific incentives
  • Any additional fees

Some of these factors may be higher-priority to you than others. The important thing is to choose a bank based on the features that are most essential to your organization.

 

What To Do:

Do some research on local banks and credit unions in Florida such as First Bank, Central Bank, and Community Credit Union. Local banks often offer excellent customer service and enticing perks for small businesses and organizations. That said, we also encourage you to shop around national banks that operate in Florida. Feel free to start your research with our reviews of our favorite business bank accounts.

Once you get your bank account set up, you’ll want to sync it with some accounting software — especially if you haven’t brought in an accountant yet. As we’ve mentioned, it’s even more important for tax-exempt organizations to keep a close eye on their finances, as they’re monitored so closely by the federal government. Check out our top 7 business accounting software tools for our two cents on the best programs on the market!

Need Help Forming Your Organization?

How To Form a 501(c)(3) NonprofitStarting a Florida 501(c)(3) nonprofit is definitely a labor of love, but the effort will be worth it in the end. To help you manage all the tasks on your to-do list, we highly recommend leveraging the expertise of an online filing service from the get-go.

Harbor Compliance will take care of many of the steps we covered in this guide on your behalf, allowing you to focus on the day-to-day needs of your budding organization. Visit their website or read our review to learn more about their approach to 501(c)(3) formation!