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

How to Use this Guide

Use the guide below to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Ohio. 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 Nonprofit Name

Choose a Business NameFirst thing’s first, you need to verify that your nonprofit name is available and acceptable under state law. Then, you can either reserve it or wait to nail it down until filing your Articles of Incorporation (Step 5). Here’s the 1-2-3 of it:

  1. Conduct a business entity search through the Sec. of State.
  2. Consult the Sec. of State’s Guide to Starting a Nonprofit in Ohio (Page 5).
  3. File a name reservation form online or on paper to protect the name until you file the Articles of Incorporation (optional).

Filing Fee: $39.00/$25.00

Quick Note: Before you commit 100% to a name, you may want to check that there’s a decent URL available for your organization. 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 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 folks to find you!


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Step 2) Appoint A Registered Agent

Choose a Registered Agent

An Ohio registered agent, or statutory agent, is a certified individual or business entity that acts as an intermediary, receiving all official documents on your nonprofit’s behalf. They must be a legal resident of Ohio, or an entity that’s registered to conduct business in the state.

They’ll also need a physical street address, but an individual agent may provide a certified P.O. Box after proving Ohio citizenship.

That said, you can hire a third-party professional service and pay around $160/year, or get an agent free of charge for one year when you incorporate with Harbor Compliance (see details).

Step 3) Select Incorporator(s) & Directors

Choose the Initial DirectorsBy definition, all an incorporator does is sign and “execute” the Articles of Incorporation and submit them to the state. You’ll need to appoint at least one.

As for your directors, you’ll need to select a minimum of three. It’ll be their job to oversee the nonprofit until your first board meeting when official directors will be voted in.

If this is all brand new to you, be sure to check out the Ohio Guide for Charity Board Members, straight from the Attorney General. It includes tons of helpful information, which is great if you don’t have a professional guiding you through this part of the process.

Step 4) Draft Nonprofit Bylaws

Register an LLC

Incorporated nonprofits need to have bylaws, a document that outlines how the organization is structured and governed. They’ll also articulate the mission of the nonprofit and steer its course.

Your bylaws should address the following topics (and more):

  • How meetings are to be conducted, and how often
  • How new officers and directors are elected, and what responsibilities they have
  • How voting takes place, how disputes are handled, and how records are kept
  • Adding/amending bylaws (any changes must be reported to the IRS after incorporation)

If this is foreign territory for you, you might consider using a corporate bylaws template to get familiar with this essential piece of documentation!

Step 5) File Articles Of Incorporation

Business LicensesOnce your name is secured, you have a statutory agent, and your incorporators are ready to officially form the organization, file Articles of Incorporation (domestic nonprofit corp.). There are extensive filing instructions on the document itself along with plenty of expedited filing options depending on how big of a hurry you’re in.

Just do not file these until you’re ready and have all your bases covered, especially when it comes to the name. This will save you time and potential extra filing fees.

Step 6) Start A Corporate Records Book

File Annual Reports & Publication Requirements

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, 501.c.3 IRS Approval Letter, 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 Initial Meeting

Hold a Meeting with Your Board of Directors

For your first meeting assemble incorporators/directors and get ready to establish the foundation of your nonprofit. Be sure to record “minutes” of the meeting and all attendees and have it signed by directors for your records book. Topics you’ll cover will vary but should include:

  • Voting on the appointment of critical officers;
  • Voting on and approving/amending bylaws;
  • Establishing a tax year as well as an accounting period;
  • Approving initial transactions, committees, and more.

If you found the bylaws template we linked above useful, check out a similar Corporate Minutes Template you can also customize and use to provide initial structure until you and your board get the hang of things should it be necessary.

Step 8) Get An EIN

Get an EIN for Your LLC

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 nine-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.

Step 9) Process Federal And State Tax Exemptions

Small Business Taxes

Now’s the point to ensure your nonprofit is 100% compliant in terms of not only licenses/permits, but state and federal taxes. You should be able to apply for tax exempt status now that the corporation is established.

  • Download IRS FORM 1023 – Application for the Recognition of Exemption under Section 501(c)(3).
  • Or Form 1023-EZ – streamlined form but must be under $50k annual gross receipts and $250k in assets.
  • Bookmark the OH Dept. of Taxation and OANO to get more specific information.
  • If you need help, check out Business License Research packages that can handle some of the legwork.

Some other great resources to put in your bookmarks are the Columbus district office of the Small Business Administration and the C4NPR because they’re heavily connected throughout the state and can help in a large variety of ways.

Step 10) Begin A Business Bank Account

Best Business Bank Account

Take some time to shop around and see which bank/credit union has the most convenience and perks to offer your organization. Don’t assume where you or any of your directors bank personally is the ideal choice. How’s their online banking? What are their free deposit/withdrawal limits? How high are their monthly fees? What kinds of incentives do they specifically offer nonprofits?

Where you choose to bank is important so don’t take it lightly. If this will be your first time setting up shop, a) check out this quick breakdown of NonProfit Accounts, and b) make sure to keep this account completely separate from all other accounts. Don’t muddy the pristine water of your financials.

Need Help?

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

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