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

How to Use this Guide

Use the guide below to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Wisconsin. 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

In Wisconsin, the first step to forming a “charitable organization” or non-stock corporation is to name it, which becomes official when you file in Step 5. Some rules are that it must be distinguishable and can’t imply the corporation is formed for any other purpose than stated in the Articles of Incorporation.

See sub-section four in Chapter 181 (pg. 8) of the state statutes for more information. Then, before filing be sure and conduct a Business Entity Search through the state to check for naming conflicts. If needed, you can file a Name Reservation Application form with the WI Dept. of Financial Institutions that’s good for 120 days.

Filing Fee: $15

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 WEEBLY 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

Choose a Registered Agent

Every nonprofit organization in the state must have a Registered Agent to officially receive and help to handle/process legal paperwork like all state filings & important business forms, legal notices, etc. Basic requirements are:

  • The agent can be a WI resident or certified individual citizen.
  • The agent can be registered business entity within the state.
  • The agent must have a non-P.O. Box physical street address and be available M-F during business hours.

A couple options are to hire a 3rd party professional and shell out up to $160/yr, or when you incorporate with Harbor Compliance (see details) you can get a qualified registered agent to perform “process of service” for free for your first year.

Step 3) Select Incorporators & Directors

Choose the Initial DirectorsThe state of Wisconsin requires your nonprofit have one declared Incorporator who will be responsible for assembling the initial foundation and file Articles of Incorporation with the state/public record. You must also select a minimum of 3 temporary Directors who are tasked with overseeing the nonprofit until your first meeting where official directors will be voted in.

Because of the potentially complex legal/tax nature of these entities, it’s highly suggested you work with a legal professional if possible. A good alternative that’s less expensive are modern incorporation providers who can help you understand the ins and outs of establishing a nonprofit.

Step 4) Draft NonProfit Bylaws

Register an LLCIncorporated nonprofits must have officially declared bylaws, or in other words, rules and regulations that form the basis of your organization. For beginners, or those with no business training they can be confusing, but general topics should include:

  • 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).
  • How to handle other nonprofit organization formalities in the state of Wisconsin.

If you want some direction and structure to follow, check out a Corporate Bylaws Template that you can use to customize around the particulars of your nonprofit.

Step 5) File Articles Of Incorporation

How to Choose a Business Structure

Once you and your team decide it’s time to form the initial corporation before the law and in the public record, either use Wisconsin’s Online Portal to file your nonprofit Articles of Incorporation, or submit them via mail to the Sec. of State. Some data you’ll need includes:

  • 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: $35

Step 6) Start A Corporate Records Book

File Annual Reports & Publication Requirements

While not mandatory, having physical records books is very common practice among corporations/nonprofits along with cloud-based storage/computers because of the nature of these business entities. They make it possible to put all pertinent paperwork in one place to handle disputes, audits, the transition of power, and so on.

As the name of the book implies, it’s a record holder of your registration, licenses and permits, minutes of meetings, and other important documents. Grab one at a nearby office supply store, order online through Amazon, or get a professional Corporate Kit which let you brand the book/slip case, provide blank certificates, and more 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 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 is a federal “Employer” Identification Number but your nonprofit is required to have one even if you don’t plan on hiring any official employees. The 9-digit number, similar to a social security number, is used to track your nonprofits financial activity once you use it to set up a bank account in Step 10.

Because it’s needed by every legal business entity in America, they’re not hard to get. The quickest and easiest way is by submitting a request directly through the IRS Website.

Step 9) Handle Licensing & 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.

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

Step 10) Setup A Business Bank Account

Best Business Bank Account

Once you have your EIN and have discussed it with your members/board, setup a dedicated bank account at a great banking institution/credit union. Don’t be hasty here! If you have a professional account or CFO handling it, that’s one thing. If not, do some shopping around to see which institutions have the most to offer in terms of overall services, lowered fees, etc.

Another important point is to ensure that no other accounts (business or personal) mix with your nonprofits account. It should be completely separate for appropriate record keeping, getting through tax season, and then synced with your accounting software of choice.

Need Help?

How To Form a 501(c)(3) NonprofitIf you’d like help forming a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit In Wisconsin, 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.