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

How to Use this Guide

Use the guide below to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Georgia. If you simply need to form a nonprofit corporation, you can have a professional service handle the paperwork for you:

– Northwest ($39 + state fee) for basic & quick nonprofit formation.

– LegalZoom ($99 + state fee) for the most well-known service available.

Step 1) Secure Your Nonprofit Name

Choose a Business Name

Before you can start your nonprofit, you’ll need to choose the perfect name to represent your organization. This name should:

  • Be distinguishable from any existing business or organization in Georgia. Essentially, this means that your nonprofit cannot have the same name as any other entity that’s currently registered in Georgia.
  • May not exceed 80 characters, including any spaces or punctuation.

For more case-specific guidelines, check out Georgia’s corporate name statutes for more details.

Keep in mind that your nonprofit’s name is the first significant branding decision you’ll make for the organization. Put some time aside so you can think long and hard on exactly what you want your brand name to communicate. You should settle on a name that represents your organization’s message and will attract other individuals who are passionate about 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 WEEBLY for a good domain name at this time, even if you’re not planning on creating a website right away.

Step 2) Appoint Registered Agent & Initial Directors

Choose a Registered Agent

Before you can move ahead with your Articles of Incorporation, you’ll need to choose a registered agent. This individual will be in charge of receiving important legal documents on your behalf, including tax forms and service of process notices. Your registered agent may be an individual who’s a resident of Georgia, or a business that’s registered to operate in the state.

You may choose to act as your own registered agent in Georgia, 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.

While you’re deciding on a registered agent, now is also a good time to nail down your initial board of directors, since their names will be requested on your Articles of Incorporation. Technically, you may wait to appoint your directors, but there is an extra fee that comes with amending your Articles of Incorporation — 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 top 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 people working with you in the early stages.

If you’re considering acting as your own registered agent, have a quick read through our guide for a more detailed look at the tasks and responsibilities associated with the position. It’s important that you fully understand what’s legally required of you before committing to this task.

On the other hand, if you’d prefer to bring in a professional, I’d recommend Harbor Compliance. They include a free year of registered agent services in their comprehensive 501(c)(3) formation package!

Step 3) File Articles Of Incorporation

Business Licenses

Congrats, this is a huge step for your organization! Once you’ve filed the Articles of Incorporation, you’ll be officially recognized as a Georgia nonprofit corporation (although not a 501(c)(3), yet).

In order to create your Georgia Articles of Incorporation, you must include:

  • The full name of your corporation
  • The name and address of your registered agent
  • The names and addresses of each incorporator
  • The primary address of your corporation
  • A member statement
  • The effective date
  • Your signature

You’ll also need to include the following statement: “The corporation is organized pursuant to the Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code.”

You may choose to file online or on paper depending on your personal preference. Whichever route you choose, you’ll have to take care of the $100.00 filing fee!

What To Do:

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

Step 4) Get An EIN

Get an EIN for Your LLC

Now that you’ve filed your Articles of Incorporation, it’s time to get an EIN. An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is the federal government’s way of tracking your organization’s financial activity. Nonprofits seeking 501(c)(3) status are under even more financial scrutiny than a for-profit corporation, so it’s important that you mark this task off your to-do list promptly.

What To Do:

The good news is the application process is pretty simple. All you need to do is head over to the IRS website and complete their online application. It’s totally free and you’ll get your identification number as soon as you’ve filled everything out.

We recommend the online route because of its efficiency, but if this approach doesn’t suit you, check out our EIN guide for other options. 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

Hold a Meeting with Your Board of Directors

Now it’s time to schedule your first meeting with your board of directors. This organizational meeting represents a huge moment for your organization, during which you and your directors have the opportunity to breathe life into your nonprofit and establish how it will operate.

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 craft your nonprofit bylaws. Your bylaws will serve as the primary governing document of the organization, so make sure to spend a significant amount of time crafting them!

What To Do:

You’re about to make a number of significant decisions that will affect your organization well into the future, so don’t go into this meeting unprepared. Do some intensive research, including what should be discussed in your nonprofit bylaws and how to record meeting minutes. We encourage you to take advantage of nonprofit meeting minute and bylaw templates to get an idea of the key topics to address in these documents.

Step 6) Start A Nonprofit Records Book

File Annual Reports & Publication Requirements

At this point you’ll have acquired quite a few important documents, so now is the perfect time to create a safe place to store them. While having a corporate records book isn’t legally required, 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.

If you’re looking for a basic-yet-functional option, you can always opt for a simple binder designated to your nonprofit’s records. On the other hand, you may want to take this opportunity to invest in a full-on nonprofit corporate kit. Most corporate kits include things like a custom seal, printed bylaws, and some other unique pieces.

What To Do:

Depending on your preference, it’s possible that you could find a sufficient corporate records binder at a local office supply store. However, if you’re considering investing in a professional corporate kit, take a look at Blumberg or Bindertek’s products. They have options specifically for nonprofits!

Step 7) Apply For Tax Exemption

Small Business Taxes

Here comes the heavy lifting. Applying for federal tax exemption is by far the most intensive part of forming your 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The application itself can be incredibly time-consuming, 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 additional factors), you’ll either have to fill out Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ. The EZ version is the shorter, more streamlined of the two. It also has a quicker turnaround time, so it’s worth checking to see if your nonprofit qualifies.

To figure 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 daunting task, so it’s important that you seek out legal assistance as soon as possible.

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 to guide you through this process. Both approaches require a fairly significant financial investment, but it’ll be well-worth it to know that your paperwork has been filed correctly and your tax-exempt status is guaranteed!

Step 8) Set Up A Business Bank Account

Best Business Bank Account

Now 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 discussed this during your organizational meeting, and chosen a bank based on the following criteria:

  • Customer service
  • Fee structures
  • National ATM accessibility
  • Online features
  • Minimum account balances
  • Nonprofit-specific incentives

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 a fair share of research on local banks and credit unions in Georgia, such as Suntrust Bank and Georgia Credit Union. Local banks often offer fantastic customer service and perks for local businesses and organizations. That said, we also encourage you to shop around national banks that operate in Georgia. You can jumpstart your research by reading through our reviews of our favorite business bank accounts.

Once you get your bank account set up, be sure to sync it with some accounting software. This step is especially important if you haven’t brought in an accountant yet. Check out our top 7 accounting software tools for our take on the best programs on the market!