How to Start a Nonprofit in Iowa

Two people forming a nonprofit in Iowa

In this guide, you’ll find everything you need about starting your Iowa nonprofit, including information on how to name your nonprofit, file articles of incorporation, and how to apply for IRS tax-exempt status.

Follow these 9 easy steps below to start a nonprofit yourself:

Step 1: Name Your Iowa Nonprofit
Step 2: Appoint an Iowa Registered Agent
Step 3: Select Your Board Members and Officers
Step 4: Iowa Articles of Incorporation
Step 5: Draft Bylaws and Conflict of Interest Policy
Step 6: Conduct an Organizational Meeting
Step 7: Get an EIN
Step 8: Register for Iowa Tax Accounts
Step 9: Applying for Exemption from State and Federal Taxes (501(c)(3) status)

Or, use a professional formation service:

four point eight out of five stars Incfile ($49 + state fee) for easy nonprofit formation.

Starting a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Iowa is easy, just follow these easy steps:

If you’ve been thinking about starting a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Iowa, you have come to the right place. We have developed this comprehensive guide to help you not only start a nonprofit in Iowa but also make it successful.

Step 1: Name Your Iowa Nonprofit

The name you select for your nonprofit will establish its brand. It is the first thing most people will learn about your organization. It is important to pick a name that both aligns with your mission and follows the rules for naming in your state.

Iowa Nonprofit Naming Guidelines

The name you pick for your organization must:

  • Not imply the organization was formed for any purpose than what is laid out in the Articles of Incorporation.
  • Be distinguishable from other businesses operating in Iowa.

The name need not include an organizational designation such as "Inc.", "Ltd.", "Incorporated", or "Company"

You can read the Revised Iowa Nonprofit Corporation Act (§504.401) for the complete rules on naming an Iowa-based organization.

To learn more, read our How to Name a Nonprofit in Iowa guide.

Is the Website Domain Name Available?

If you plan to have a website for your organization, you will want to make sure that a suitable URL is currently available on GoDaddy.

You may want to buy any URLs you are interested in, to make sure they are available when you are ready to finalize and create your website.

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Registered your domain name? Next, choose a business phone system to help your nonprofit build trust. We recommend Nextiva for its affordability and high-quality customer service. Try Nextiva today.

Step 2: Appoint an Iowa Registered Agent

A nonprofit corporation in Iowa is required to have a registered agent with an Iowa address.

What is a Registered Agent? A registered agent is an individual or business entity responsible for receiving important legal documents on behalf of your business. Think of your registered agent as your business' point of contact with the state.

Learn more about registered agents

Incfile provides the first year of registered agent service free with nonprofit formation ($49 + State Fees)

To learn more, read our Iowa Registered Agent guide.

Step 3: Select Your Board Members and Officers

The directors of a nonprofit are responsible for overseeing the operations of the organization. The directors come together to form a board.

The officers of a nonprofit (such as the president or the secretary) are individuals with responsibilities, and the authority to execute based on their job descriptions.

Together, the officers and the board will come together to make up the organizational structure of your nonprofit.

The organization structure of your nonprofit in Iowa MUST include:

  • At least 3 directors not related to each other
  • A president
  • A secretary
  • A treasurer

NOTE: The president and secretary positions cannot be held by the same person.

To learn more, read our guide on How to Select Board Members for Your Iowa Nonprofit.

Step 4: Iowa Articles of Incorporation

To become a nonprofit corporation in Iowa you must file the Articles of Incorporation with the state, following the guidelines set forth in the Revised Iowa Nonprofit Corporation Act §504.202.

In order to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, the organization’s purpose must explicitly be limited to one or more of the following:

  • Charitable
  • Religious
  • Scientific
  • Literary
  • Testing for public safety
  • Fostering national/international amateur sports competition
  • Preventing cruelty to animals/children

The filing fee is $20.

  • Checks for mailed forms must be made payable to the "Secretary of State"
  • SOS Charge Accounts may be used for filing fees.
  • Accepted credit cards include Visa, Discover, MasterCard, and American Express

To learn more, read our Iowa Articles of Incorporation guide.

Step 5: Draft Bylaws and Conflict of Interest Policy

There are two documents that will be central to the running of your nonprofit:

Bylaws: These are the rules that determine how your organization will be governed and run.

Conflict of Interest Policy: These are the rules set to ensure that decisions being made for the nonprofit are based on what is best for the organization, and not being motivated by what is best for individuals.

Learn more about how to write bylaws for your nonprofit

Step 6: Conduct an Organizational Meeting

An organizational meeting is the first official meeting of your nonprofit! Some of the things that are discussed in a typical organizational meeting:

  • Taking attendance to show you have a quorum (minimum number needed)
  • Appointing temporary officers, chairmen, secretaries, etc.
  • Adoption of the bylaws
  • Adoption of conflict of interest policy

Don’t forget to record “minutes” of the meeting and have it signed by all attending directors. Here are some corporate minutes templates to help you get the ball rolling.

Step 7: Get an EIN

An EIN or Employment Identification Number (also called a Federal Tax Identification Number or Federal Employment Identification Number), is used to uniquely identify a business entity. You can think of the EIN as a social security number for your nonprofit.

The EIN is required for your organization whether or not it will have any employees.

To learn more, read our guide on how to get your EIN.

Step 8: Register for Iowa Tax Accounts

Nonprofits in Iowa will also need to apply for state business tax accounts through the Iowa Department of Revenue as well.

New businesses can register online or via mail. You can submit paper forms to the mailing address below:

Iowa Department of Revenue
Registration Services
P.O. Box 10470
Des Moines, IA 50306-0470

For more information, you can call the Department of Revenue at (515) 281-3114 or visit them at their website.

Step 9: Applying for Exemption from State and Federal Taxes (501(c)(3) status)

Applying for Exemption from Federal Taxes:

A nonprofit may be eligible for 501(c)(3) status only if its purpose is limited to one or more of the following:

Charitable, Religious, Scientific, Educational, Literary, Fostering national/international amateur sports competition, Preventing cruelty to animals/children, Testing for public safety

Before a nonprofit can apply for 501(c)(3) status it must:

  1. Elect at least 3 directors not related to each other
  2. Register as a nonprofit with the state
  3. Adopt the bylaws and conflict of interest policy
  4. Have an EIN number

Once these four conditions have been met your nonprofit can apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status by filing Form-1023 online.

If your application is approved, the IRS will send you a determination letter stating that your organization is exempt from federal taxes under section 501(c)(3).

To learn more, read our guide on How to File Form 1023-EZ.


Applying for Exemption from State Taxes:

Once you have received your 501(c)(3) determination letter from the IRS, your nonprofit will automatically be exempt from state income taxes.

There are very few exemptions from sales (and other) taxes in the state of Iowa. To learn more about how different taxes apply to Iowa nonprofits, access the Iowa Department of Revenue’s page dedicated to nonprofits.

For more information, you can call the Department of Revenue at (515) 281-3114 or visit them at the address below:

Hoover State Office Building - 4th Floor
1305 E. Walnut
Des Moines, IA 50319

Once you have formed your Iowa nonprofit, we recommend you read our guide on How To Protect your Iowa Nonprofit and Keep It Compliant.

State of Iowa Nonprofit Quicklinks