How To Form a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit In North Carolina

How to Use this Guide

Use the guide below to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in North Carolina. 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) Secure Your Nonprofit Name

Choose a Business Name

To secure and register your brand name it must be unique, and shouldn’t contain any restricted wording. Keep in mind that there are a number of other naming rules, so be sure to bookmark Article 3 of the NC Statutes, which covers corporate naming regulations.

Follow these steps:

  1. Choose a name, and ensure it is available by conducting a business entity search through the Secretary of State website.
  2. If needed, you can reserve your name for 120 days ($30 filing fee).

Quick Note: Before you commit 100% to a name, you may also want to check that there’s a decent URL available for your organization. Use WEEBLY to search your options. If there’s a quality domain name for purchase, we advise buying it right away. Even if launching a website isn’t on your radar right now, it’s going to be soon, and you might as well nail down a domain name now.

Step 2) Appoint A Registered Agent

Choose a Registered Agent

When operating in North Carolina, you are required to designate a registered agent to handle official documents on behalf of your nonprofit.

Your registered agent must:

  • Be a legal resident of NC, or
  • Be a business entity that’s legally registered to operate in the state
  • Have a physical (non-P.O. Box) NC address
  • Be available during normal business hours (Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm)

Action Step: You can designate a registered agent by electing someone within your organization, hiring an outside professional, or forming your nonprofit through a provider like Harbor Compliance to get a full year of these services for free (see details).

Step 3) Select Incorporators & Directors

Choose the Initial Directors

An incorporator is simply an individual who executes the Articles of Incorporation so your nonprofit can be made official. Directors, on the other hand, are in charge of helping run the nonprofit (check out this NC Guidebook for Nonprofit Boards of Directors for more information).

Action Steps:

  1. Select at least one incorporator to deliver your Articles of Incorporation to the state.
  2. Select at least one initial director to oversee the nonprofit until new directors are voted in.

This part can be somewhat complex, which is why it’s a good idea to either hire a nonprofit lawyer or work with a professional nonprofit formation service. They’ll help you understand the ins and outs of choosing initial directors, and so much more.

Step 4) Draft Nonprofit Bylaws

Register an LLC

Your nonprofit bylaws will define the structure, management and governance of your nonprofit. Common nonprofit bylaw topics include:

  • How meetings are to be conducted, and how often
  • Election of officers/directors and what responsibilities they have
  • How disputes will be handled and how records are kept
  • Procedures for adding/amending bylaws (any changes must be reported to the IRS after incorporation)
  • How to handle other corporate formalities required in NC

Action Step: If this is all new to you, consider creating your bylaws by customizing an online corporate bylaws template!

Step 5) File Articles Of Incorporation

Business Licenses

Once you and your team decide it’s time to officially form the nonprofit corporation, you’ll need to file nonprofit Articles of Incorporation with the state.

Some of the information you’ll need to provide on this document includes:

  • The organization’s name and principal address/phone number
  • Complete names & addresses of registered agent and incorporators
  • Effective date
  • 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 the organization
  • Incorporator signature

Action Step: File the Articles of Incorporation with the NC Secretary of State’s Office online, in-person, or by mail.

Filing Fee: $60

Step 6) Start A Corporate Records Book

File Annual Reports & Publication Requirements

While there’s a variety of modern ways to track and compile your nonprofit’s important data, what we’re talking about here is a physical records book where you keep copies of all your essential documents. Is this required by the state? No. But it’s a great way to stay organized, and even assert the legitimacy of your brand.

Action Step: You can find a sufficient corporate binder at a nearby office supply store or on Amazon, but we’re huge fans of corporate kits, which include branded pieces like custom printed bylaws and embossing seals!

Step 7) Conduct Initial Meeting

Hold a Meeting with Your Board of Directors

Now’s the time to sit down with your initial directors and conduct an organizational meeting. This part of nonprofit work can get pretty complex, especially for beginners trying to navigate the corporate formalities involved. Regardless, it’s important to address all of the following topics:

  • Establishing process for approving and amending bylaws
  • Appointment of officers, as well as committee management
  • Setting an accounting/tax period and appointing a CFO
  • Approval of initial transactions/setting up a corporate bank account

Don’t forget to take roll call and record your first meeting minutes, too!

Step 8) Get An EIN

Get an EIN for Your LLC

An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is a 9-digit number assigned by the IRS to track business entities’ financial activity. Think of it as a social security number for your nonprofit.

Having an EIN will make it possible for you to legally hire employees and open up a business bank account (Step 10). Almost every major transaction your nonprofit engages in will require an EIN, so it’s important to nail one down now.

Action Step: Get an EIN easily and completely free of charge by applying directly through the IRS website.

Step 9) Handle Licensing & Exemptions

Small Business Taxes

Now that your nonprofit corporation is established, it’s time to handle any licensing/permit requirements and apply for federal tax-exempt status. While we advise consulting a lawyer, here are some steps you can take to get the ball rolling:

Action Steps: We highly recommend working with an attorney or professional nonprofit formation service for this step. Applying for 501(c)(3) status is incredibly complicated, and services like Harbor Compliance can take care of this entire process on your behalf.

Step 10) Set Up A Business Bank Account

Best Business Bank Account

As a nonprofit, you’re probably looking for financial utility and solutions geared for your needs – waived fees, online banking options, conservative interest rates and other valuable services.

Take some time to shop around local, state and national banks/credit unions until you find the best option for your organization. Regardless of where you choose to bank, make sure to keep your personal and professional expenses totally separate. Don’t muddy the pristine waters of your financials and risk causing an audit!

Action Step: To get started on your research, check out our top 5 favorite business bank accounts.

Need Help?

How To Form a 501(c)(3) NonprofitIf you’d like help forming a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit In North Carolina, we highly recommend looking into Harbor Compliance for personalized top-to-bottom nonprofit formation and obtaining IRS 501(c)(3) status.

They’ll handle everything on your behalf and be on-call for any questions you have. For more info, visit their website or read our review.