Step 1) Secure Your Nonprofit Name
First thing’s first, you need to verify that the name you would like for your nonprofit is available and acceptable under state law, and then reserve it if needed. Here’s the 1-2-3 of it:
- Conduct a Business Entity Search through the Sec. of State to check for naming conflicts.
- Consult the state statutes, specifically 10-33-10 within the NonProfit Corps. section.
- File a Reserve Name Application (SFN 13015) form to protect the name until you file Articles (Step 5).
Filing Fee: $10
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
Nonprofits, like businesses are required to designate and maintain a North Dakota Registered Agent (legal appointee, statutory agent, etc.) to receive and help process documents and critical paperwork on behalf of the organization.
Based on state requirements, an entity or an organization cannot serve as its own agent, thus, the need to hire a 3rd party.
They must be a resident of the state, have an office or physical address and must be available during all regular M-F business hours. Costs can run $160 every year, or you can get a qualified/dependable agent free of charge when you incorporate through services like Incfile.
Step 3) Select Incorporators & Directors
An incorporator, and there can be more than one, is responsible for “executing” the Articles of Incorporation with the state in Step 5. Pretty simple and the only real requirement is that they be over 18 year of age. Directors on the other hand have far more responsibility.
For now you’ll be recruiting at least one temporary director to oversee the organization until in Step 7, you vote in the official directors of the board.
This is where the process can get complex, legal-heavy with corporate formalities, so it’s a good idea to work with either a nonprofit lawyer or an incorporation service who can help guide you and your team through this part of the process and explain the finer details.
Step 4) Draft Nonprofit Bylaws
Truth be told, "bylaws" is really just a fancy word for rules, or regulations.
These are the rules you write for how your nonprofit will be governed and managed along with the many stipulations that come along with having a board of directors vs a nonprofit that's run expressly by members or volunteers. Common bylaws cover topics like:
- How meetings are to be conducted.
- How new officers and directors are elected.
- How voting takes place, disputes handled, and records kept/managed.
- Adding/Amending bylaws (any changes must be reported to the IRS after incorporation).
If this is all new to you, use a savvy Corporate Bylaws Template which you can customize for your nonprofit and get an idea of the paperwork-side of bylaws.
Step 5) File Articles Of Incorporation
First, it would be a good idea to print out and ND Guide to "Begin and Maintain a Nonprofit Corporation" so that you know you have all your bases covered before filing your Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation. This officially forms the organization under the law and before the public record.
- The name, type, duration of existence, and statement of purpose (provisions for nonprofit vs corp);
- Complete names & addresses of registered agent (and office), incorporators, and directors.
- 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 your organization.
Filing Fee: $40
Step 6) Start A Corporate Records Book
If you aren’t already familiar, a nonprofit records book is where you keep physical copies of the most important paperwork – Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, Meeting Minutes, licenses & permits, current board members list, your annual and biannual reports, etc. Not mandatory, but very common and highly advised.
You can pick one up at pretty much any office supply store or online through Amazon of course, but we’re huge fans of savvy-sleek Corporate Kits which include gorgeous records books, binders, blank certificates and more which you can brand for as little as $99.
Step 7) Conduct An Initial Meeting
Don't worry if you don't have an MBA or any formal experience with conducting official corporate or nonprofit meetings. It's essentially where you gather your board of directors and upper management/officers, record "minutes of meeting" and take care of foundational topics like:
- Approving the Bylaws set out in Step 4, or amending them.
- Appointment of officers, directors, committees, etc.
- Approving important transactions and setting up a bank account/treasurer.
- Setting a tax period, a record keeper, appointing a CFO, and so forth.
Step 8) Get An EIN
An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is required by both state and federal governments for essentially the same reasons individuals are required to have a SSN. It’s a 9-digit number that’s used to track business/nonprofit financial activity and makes it possible to open a business bank account, hire paid-employees if needed, and so on.
Almost every transaction your nonprofit engages in will require an EIN. That said, you can get one quickly, easily and free of charge by applying online through the IRS Website.