How to Form a Nonprofit in Washington

Two people forming a nonprofit in Washington

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

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

In this guide, you’ll find everything you need about starting your Washington nonprofit, including information on how to name your nonprofit, file articles of incorporation, and how to apply for IRS tax-exempt status. Just follow these 8 easy steps below:

Step 1: Name Your Washington Nonprofit
Step 2: Appoint a Washington Registered Agent
Step 3: Select Your Board Members and Officers
Step 4: File the Washington 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: Applying for Exemption from Federal (501(c)(3) status) and State taxes

Step 1: Name Your Washington 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.

Washington Nonprofit Naming Guidelines

  • Must not include the words company, incorporated, corporation, limited partnership, partnership, Ltd. or any abbreviation of these words.
  • May include words such as association, league, club, committee, fund, guild, nonprofit, and more.
  • May only use the term public benefit if the organization is deemed a public benefit organization by the Secretary of State and follows these guidelines.

To learn more, read our How to Name a Nonprofit in Washington 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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After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free

Step 2: Appoint a Washington Registered Agent

A nonprofit corporation in Washington is required to have a registered agent with a Washington 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 How To Pick a Washington 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 Washington MUST include:

  • 3 directors not related to each other
  • A president
  • One or more vice presidents
  • A secretary
  • A treasurer

NOTE: Two or more people can hold the same office, but 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 nonprofit

Step 4: File the Washington Articles of Incorporation

To become a nonprofit corporation in Washington you must file the Articles of Incorporation with the State of Washington.

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

You will need to mail the following to the Secretary of State:

Secretary of State
Corporations & Charities Division
801 Capitol Way S
Olympia, WA 98504-0234

To learn more, read our guide on How to File the Washington Articles of Incorporation

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: 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:

In Washington State, nonprofits are taxed the same as any other business.

There are some business & occupation, and sales tax exemptions available during fundraising under very specific conditions. You can read about it on the Department of Revenue website.

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

State of Washington Nonprofit Quicklinks