STEP 1) SECURE YOUR NON-PROFIT NAME

Choose a Business Name

If it were too simple to secure a proper name for your non-profit it wouldn’t be any fun! First, it must be unique and unlike any other business entity name registered with the state. To discover any naming conflicts, conduct a Business Entity Search until you know you have something unique that’s also aligned with your core mission statement (as stipulated in your Articles of Organization).

Now, two other things – bookmark Title 15A: 2-2 in state law on naming and secondly, pay special attention to the fact that if needed you can file an Application for Reservation of Name through online/postal mail for that’s good for 120 days.

Filing Fee: $50

STEP 2) APPOINT A REGISTERED AGENT

Choose a Registered Agent

A New Jersey Registered Agent can be an individual resident/citizen of the state or a legally registered domestic/foreign business entity with a physical street address and regular M-F business hours. On behalf of your non-profit they receive and help process important documents like state filings, tax forms, legal notices and so on. They’re essential and required by law.

That said, you can hire a 3rd party professional and expect to pay up to $160/year, or get a NJ Registered Agent free of charge when you start a non-profit with IncFile or Incorporate.com. They handle this along with so much more depending on the startup package/service you choose.

STEP 3) SELECT INCORPORATORS & DIRECTORS

Choose the Initial Directors

An incorporator, and there can be more than one, is responsible for “executing” the Articles of organization with the state in Step 5. Pretty simple and the only real requirement is that they be over 18 year of age. Directors (known as “trustees” in NJ) on the other hand bare far more responsibility. For now you’ll be recruiting at least one temporary director (more are recommended) to oversee the organization until in Step 7, you vote in the official directors of the board.

This is where the process can get complex, legal-heavy with corporate formalities, so it’s a good idea to work with either a non-profit lawyer or an incorporation service who can help guide you and your team through this part of the process. If it’ll be helpful, here’s a link to the Basics in Non-Profit Corporate Governance from a Lawyer through the American Bar Organization that touches on primary director responsibilities.

STEP 4) DRAFT NON-PROFIT BYLAWS

Register an LLC

Bylaws are the rules/stipulations/regulations you write for how your non-profit will be governed and managed along with the many other formalities that come along with having a board of directors vs a non-profit that’s run expressly by members or volunteers. Common bylaws cover topics like:

  • How meetings are to be conducted and how often (monthly, by-monthly, yearly, etc.)
  • How new officers and directors are elected and their responsibilities.
  • 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 all new to you, use this savvy Corporate Bylaws Template which you can customize for your non-profit and get an idea of the paperwork-side of bylaws.

STEP 5) FILE ARTICLES OF INCORPORATION

Business Licenses

Alright, if you’re ready to officially form your non-profit corporation (if seeking religious, consider “Title 16” for reduced fees) in the eyes of the law and public record, be sure everything is correct with your Articles of Incorporation and have your incorporators sign/file them with the state. Be sure to include a cover letter or self-addressed/stamped return envelope.

You file in-person at the corresponding state office, through mail which can take up to 4 weeks (there are expedited options), or by using the NJ Online Filing Portal.

Filing Fee: $75

STEP 6) START A CORPORATE RECORDS BOOK

File Annual Reports & Publication Requirements

If you aren’t already familiar, a non-profit records book is where you keep physical copies of the most important paperwork – Articles of Organization, Bylaws, Meeting Minutes, 501.c.3 IRS Approval Letter, licenses & permits, current board members list, your annual and biannual reports, etc. Not mandatory, but very common and highly advised.

You can pick one up at pretty much any office supply store or online through Amazon of course, but we’re huge fans of savvy-sleek Corporate Kits which include gorgeous records books, binders, blank certificates and more which you can brand for as little as $99.

STEP 7) CONDUCT INITIAL MEETING

Hold a Meeting with Your Board of Directors

The first meeting is in many ways the most important because it lays the foundation. Before we list common issues covered below, here’s a Corporate Minutes Template you can customize and use to get the ball rolling.

  • You will appoint/vote in the initial board of directors.
  • You will elect at least 1 officer as Secretary, but you’ll also need a CEO, treasurer, etc.
  • Officially adopt bylaws, or address changes which need to be declared to the IRS.
  • Approve getting an EIN in Step 8, a bank account in Step 10, assign committees, and more.

STEP 8) GET AN EIN

Get an EIN for Your LLC

An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is required by both state and federal governments for essentially the same reasons individuals are required to have a SSN. It’s a nine-digit number that’s used to track business/non-profit financial activity and makes it possible to open a business bank account, hire paid-employees if needed, and so on.

Almost every transaction your non-profit engages in will require an EIN. That said, you can get one quickly, easily and free of charge by applying online through the IRS Website.

STEP 9) HANDLE LICENSING & EXEMPTIONS

Small Business Taxes

Now’s the point to ensure your non-profit 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.

Two other resources you might find especially valuable are the Newark district office of the Small Business Administration, the state’s Premier Business Services page, and the One-Stop Business Portal because there’s plenty of relevant information along with financial services.

STEP 10) SETUP A BUSINESS BANK ACCOUNT

Best Business Bank Account

In your initial meeting you and the board should have discussed where to set up your non-profit’s financial groundwork – where to bank. This is no simple matter. If you aren’t a/haven’t hired a qualified CFO or accountant, then you need to check out a good number of different local, state, and national banks as well as credit unions.

There’s a lot of variables to consider here, so to get your research going check out this brief breakdown of Non-Profit Accounts to gain a better understanding and be sure to keep your non-profit account 100% separate from all others. Don’t let any other assets of data streams put your non-profit at risk.

OPTIONAL) WORK ON A DONOR-READY PLAN

Write a Business PlanWho is designing your non-profit’s plan of action and how much detail is there? Could you show it to a state-level organization or angel investment fund? Is it good enough to share directly with the people on a crowdfunding platform? Remember, if your non-profit is incorporated and run by a board of directors, this isn’t just some pet project, right?

A donor-ready plan really lays out the mission, provides milestones/goals on how this mission will be or is being achieved, details outreach and marketing methods, and presents clear financials/forecasts/funding objectives. Thankfully there are cost-effective software solutions that walk newcomers through the process.

QUICK LINKS TO NON-PROFIT PLANNING

OPTIONAL) PUBLISH A RESPONSIVE WEBSITE

Build a Business WebsiteAnd by responsive we mean a website that responds to the needs of your target audiences. If you were to say, spend 10 minutes browsing the 20 Best Non-Profit Websites (2016 Edition) what you would see are words, images, and video that’s curated for a specific individual. For non-profits, vs. more business-style sites, it’s about really getting the mission across then giving people clear options to get involved.

The question most new non-profits face is where to turn to get a responsive site built for their initiative that doesn’t cost $4000. If there’s no in-house designer aboard, hiring can be costly and these costs really have an impact when you’re a bootstrapping non-profit. Be sure to investigate platforms like Wix and SquareSpace, or even WordPress and Shopify.

Need Help Forming Your Organization?

Have a reliable incorporation service like IncFile or LegalZoom do the work for you. Just answer a few questions about your organization and they’ll take care of the paperwork.

Visit IncFile Or Visit LegalZoom

Note that this article on how to start a non-profit organization in New Jersey 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 New Jersey or business in general, please consult with a non-profit/corporate lawyer or other accredited professional.