Step 1) Secure Nonprofit Name
First 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:
- Conduct a business entity search through the Sec. of State.
- Consult the Sec. of State's Guide to Starting a Nonprofit in Ohio (Page 5).
- 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!
Step 2) Appoint 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 Incfile.
Step 3) Select Incorporator(s) & Directors
By 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
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
Information you’ll need includes:
- Your organization’s name and statement of purpose
- Name, address and signature of registered agent
- The principal address at which the nonprofit will operate
- Name and signature of incorporator(s)
The most important thing here is that you’re ready for this step. To save yourself time and money, don’t file until you’ve got all your ducks in a row!
Filing Fee: $99
Step 6) Start A Corporate Records Book
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.
You can pick up a basic corporate records book at pretty much any office supply store or through Amazon, but we’re huge fans of corporate kits. These typically include gorgeous custom pieces like embossing seals and printed bylaws.
Step 7) Conduct Initial Meeting
Your first formal meeting with your initial directors will be an organizational meeting. You’ll need to record the minutes of this meeting and have it signed by all attending directors (consider using a corporate minutes template if you’re unfamiliar).
All of the following topics should be addressed:
- Appointment of critical officers
- Procedure for approving/amending bylaws
- Establishing a tax year and accounting period
- Approving initial transactions, committees, etc.
This is also when the nonprofit should officially adopt the bylaws drafted in Step 4!
Step 8) Get An EIN
An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is required by both state and federal governments for essentially the same reason individuals are required to have SSNs.
The nine-digit number will be used to track your organization's financial activity, and make it possible to open a business bank account and hire paid-employees. Pretty much every major transaction your nonprofit engages in will require an EIN.
That said, you can get one easily and free of charge by applying online through the IRS Website.