Choosing a unique name, unlike any other entity’s name registered with the state, for your non-profit is an important first step so be sure to conduct a Business Entity Search through the state. Also, the name needs to align with your core mission statement that will be declared in your Articles in Step 5. Then there are a number of other specifications you should brush up on by checking out Section 301-A (page 16) of the Maine Nonprofit Corporation Act.
Once you find a name that’s not already taken and that suits your non-profit, if needed you can file an Application for Reservation of Name to protect it for 120 days while you’re getting everything established.
Filing Fee: $5
A Maine Registered Agent is required to incorporate any non-profit in the state. This “statutory agent” should be an individual of legal age and a resident or a registered business entity on file with the Dept. of Assessments & Taxation. Your “registered office” is also required to have a physical street address. They provide “Service of Process” or, in other words, receive your official documents on your non-profit’s behalf.
Maine requires at least 1 incorporator whose job it is to sign/file your Articles of Incorporation with the state. Then you need to recruit initial directors that can oversee the non-profit until you’re formed and conduct your first meeting in Step 7 where official directors will be voted in/on.
Bookmark the Guide for Board Members of Charitable Corporations page on Maine.gov because it has some of the finer details and links to more resources, but to be frank, working with an attorney or incorporation provider really comes in handy during this foundational step because there are definitely corporate formalities to learn.
Without your own bylaws, your non-profit would be subject to the default rules and statutes concerning these subjects which may not be suitable at all. There are some rules, but common non-profit bylaws include:
To get started, check out this savvy Corporate Bylaws Template with an example that you can customize yourself. Also, here’s a link to the revised statutes ME Non-Profit Act (page 27) which gives you the finer, comprehensive details.
Once you and your board believe everything is in order and you’re ready to form the non-profit in the eyes of the law/public record, you’ll have your incorporators sign and file Articles of Incorporation (Domestic) with the Maine Secretary of State, Bureau of Corporations, Elections, and Commissions.
This is going to require original signatures and ask you to declare some of the basics: name, registered agent info, directors info, etc.
Filing Fee: $40 or $50-$100 Expedited Fee Options
This is a formality of being a for-profit or non-profit corporation that goes along with digitally keeping track of your data. It’s an organized physical book, or binder, that contains hard copies of the most critical paperwork – state filing documents, licenses & permits, meeting minutes, tax returns, contracts, etc.
You can find them at nearby office supply stores or on Amazon, but we’re huge fans of Corporate Kits which include gorgeous records books/binders, blank certificated, and you can brand them for as little as $99.
Like the Articles of Incorporation, this part of non-profit work can get very formal and complex for beginners trying to navigate the semi-corporate structure of conducting meetings, electing directors, discussing bylaws, and going through the motions so to speak. Your first meeting however should cover topics like:
Don’t forget to record “corporate minutes,” take roll call, record everyone’s name, and have it signed by all attending directors then add this to your new records book.
An EIN, or FEIN, is a Federal Employer Identification Number and your non-profit entity is required to have one whether it has paid employees in the beginning or not. In other words, it’s like a social security number for your organization except it’s there to track financial activity to help maintain exempt status. You also need one to open up an official bank account in Step 10.
Almost every transaction your non-profit engages in will require an EIN. That said, you can get one quickly and free of charge by applying online through the IRS Website.
By now you should be ready to apply for exemptions under state and federal laws and in the process take care of any remaining licensing/permit issues. If you don’t have a legal team, here are four resources to get you started:
Two other good websites to put in your resources bookmark folder would be the Augusta district office of the Small Business Administration and the Non-Profit section of the state’s Corporations Division because they’ve got tons to offer your platform moving forward.
If the business-side of banking is unfamiliar to you and you don’t yet have a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), bookmark this brief breakdown of Non-Profit Accounts.compiled in mid-2016 by Investopedia. You need financial utility, services and solutions that are engineered for non-profits vs. conventional companies.
Look at their checking options, and while you may have minimal activity to begin with, don’t forget to project forward. Look at interest rates and overall fee structures. Take some time to research before choosing any local, state, or national bank or credit union because this is a critical step. Sure, you can change institutions at any time, but this is a foundational choice at conception.
Unbelievable work, at this point your non-profit is established and ready to impact the world, change lives, and make a difference. That said, how’s your planning? What kind of plan do you have and how much structure is there?
Listen, if all you have is a basic mission statement and a hazy vision of the next couple years PLEASE consider taking some time to really chisel out a solid game plan with core fundamentals like outreach methods, funding needs, impact goals/milestones, etc. It’s worth it. Eventually your non-profit will need this anyway when it comes time to approach potential partners and volunteer organizations. If you need help putting this together, we highly recommend a tool called LivePlan, which will walk you through the entire process.
Do you have a website for your non-profit yet? It’s important you do, whether that be a single explanatory landing page, a comprehensive agency-style site, or a blog with ecommerce capabilities. At the end of the day it’s about this one thing: “What people see or discover when they search for your non-profit’s name online.”
Note that this article on how to start a non-profit organization in Maine isn’t a legal document or legal advice. It’s for informational purposes and the information above is subject to change. For specific legal questions regarding how to start a non-profit organization in Maine or business in general, please consult with a lawyer or other accredited professional.