Step 1) Secure Your Non-Profit Name

Choose a Business NameChoosing 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

Step 2) Appoint A Registered Agent

Choose a Registered Agent

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.

Costs can run $160 every year, or you can get a qualified/dependable agent free of charge when you incorporate your non-profit through well-trusted services like IncFile or BizFilings.

Step 3) Select Incorporators & Directors

Choose the Initial DirectorsMaine 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.

Step 4) Draft Non-Profit Bylaws

Register an LLC

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:

  • Detailed info on principle and registered agent offices.
  • Management, procedures, and responsibilities of the board.
  • Details on each office – Pres., Secretary, Treasurer, etc.
  • How to go about Adding/Amending bylaws,
  • How to handle other corporate formalities required in Maine.

To get started, check out a 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.

Step 5) File Articles Of Incorporation

Business LicensesOnce 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

Step 6) Maintain A Corporate Records Book

File Annual Reports & Publication RequirementsThis 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.

Step 7) Conduct Initial Meeting

Hold a Meeting with Your Board of Directors

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:

  • Approving or Amending the bylaws written down in Step 4, and establishing this process for future meetings.
  • Appointment of officers like secretary, treasury, CEO, etc., as well as committee management.
  • Setting a non-profit accounting and tax period and appointing a CFO,
  • Approval of initial transactions and approval of setting up a corporate bank account.

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.

Step 8) Get An EIN

Get an EIN for Your LLCAn 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.

Step 9) Handle Licensing & Exemptions

Small Business Taxes

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:

  • 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 MANP and the ME Revenue Services page to get more information/resources.
  • If you need help, check out Business License Research packages that handle some legwork for you.

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.

Step 10) Setup A Business Bank Account

Best Business Bank AccountIf 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.

Need Help Forming Your Organization?

If you’d like help forming a nonprofit, here are two great options:

Swyft Filings ($49 + state fees) is ideal if you’re on a budget but refuse to sacrifice quality. However if you’d like to have access to an attorney past nonprofit formation, Rocket Lawyer ($99 + state fees) is the best option.

Visit Swyft Filings Or Visit Rocket Lawyer

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.