STEP 1) SECURE YOUR NON-PROFIT NAME

Choose a Business NameOkay, so your first step is to secure a great “brand name” for your non-profit that’s unlike any other entity registered with the state. It should also reflect your mission statement vs. giving the wrong idea or coming off as deceptive. Conduct a Business Entity Search through the Sec. of State to ensure there aren’t any naming conflicts.

There are a fair amount of other state-specific stipulations that you should take the time to understand. The issue is that if the name isn’t right and accepted, your Articles of Incorporation (Step 5) will be rejected. Please bookmark Article 3 in the NC statutes to get complete information on naming your non-profit organization. If needed, you can file an Application to Reserve a Business Entity Name that’s good for a decade as well.

Filing Fee: $30

STEP 2) APPOINT A REGISTERED AGENT

Choose a Registered AgentAll incorporated non-profits, along with business entities, must have a “statutory agent” or registered agent to officially receive critical paperwork on their behalf. This is so that you’ll always get them on time and there won’t be any hiccups with state filings or legal notices.

  • Must be a citizen of the state of North Carolina,
  • Must have a non-P.O. Box street or office address in North Carolina,
  • Must be available during business hours (9am to 5pm) Monday to Friday.

So you can hire a 3rd party professional and expect to pay up to $160/year, or get a NC Registered Agent free of charge when you incorporate through IncFile or Incorporate.com. They handle this along with much more depending on your startup package.

STEP 3) SELECT INCORPORATORS & DIRECTORS

Choose the Initial DirectorsAn incorporator, and there can be more than one, is responsible for “executing” the Articles of Incorporation with the state in Step 5. Pretty simple and the only real requirement is that they be over 18 year of age. Directors 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 Guidebook for Boards of Directors of North Carolina Non-Profit Corporations.

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 LicensesIf you’re ready to officially form your non-profit corporation 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. There’s instructions on the document itself, but feel free to bookmark the entire Chapter 55a of the North Carolina Nonprofit Corporation Act because it outlines all the finer details.

At the link above it takes you to the Sec. of State site where you’ll be able to download a PDF file. Print it out and make sure you have a copy for your brand new corporate records book we’ll touch on in the next step.

Filing Fee: $60

STEP 6) START A CORPORATE RECORDS BOOK

File Annual Reports & Publication RequirementsWhile there are a variety of modern ways to track and compile your non-profit’s data (contracts, financials, important documents, etc.), what we’re talking about here is a physical records book where you keep copies of this paperwork should it become necessary. They’re very common. As common in the non-profit/corporate world as brand logos. Are they required by the state? No, they’re not required.

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 DirectorsLike 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 “minute of meeting” take roll call, record everyone’s name, and have it signed by all attending directors then add this to your new records book. 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 8) GET AN EIN

Get an EIN for Your LLCGetting an EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is one of the easiest parts of this entire process. It’s a 9-digit number that’s used to keep track of your financial activity to ensure legality and compliance. Once you have one you can hire paid employees if needed, or a part of your organization, and set up an official bank account.

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

At this point your non-profit corporation should be established, so now it’s time to handle any licensing/permit requirements and apply for tax exempt status. While we advise consulting a lawyer, here are some steps you can take to get the ball rolling:

Two other great resources it might be worth it to add to your bookmarks are the Charlotte district office of the Small Business Administration and the state’s Small Biz Development Center because they’ve got plenty of helpful information and connection to not only resources but the people of NC as well.

STEP 10) SETUP A BUSINESS BANK ACCOUNT

Best Business Bank AccountAt first glance this might seem like a trivial step, but it isn’t. Far from it actually, because the differences from one bank to another, from one credit union to another, can be huge when you consider their impact (along with other financial services they offer non-profits) over the first three years. Consider fees, interest levels, charges for using this and that service, and everything else that happens with the money your non-profit deals with.

If this will be your first time setting up shop, a) check out this quick breakdown of Non-Profit Accounts, and b) make sure to keep this account completely separate from all other accounts. Don’t muddy the pristine water of your financials and put everything at risk of causing an audit by the IRS or wasting precious resources.

OPTIONAL) WORK TOWARDS A FUND-READY PLAN

Write a Business PlanA fund-ready plan is a structured set of information on your non-profit that you can publish on crowdfunding platforms or show to volunteer groups or state-level organizations or anyone else you’re looking to form a relationship with. But more than that a fund-ready plan signifies an organization that’s efficient and serious.

Who wants to donate to a cause with hazy mission statement or sloppy platform? Because of so much fraud and spam out there, people tend to be distrustful of any non-profit that isn’t VERY well-presented. So work towards the best plan you can put together, and if you need help turn to savvy software solutions that’ve helped hundreds of thousands of others just like you and your team.

OPTIONAL) PUBLISH A RESPONSIVE WEBSITE

Build a Business WebsiteAlong with running a tight ship with a solid plan in action, having a great website is essential. What happens when a potential donor or volunteer Google’s your organization? What will they find? Will this increase or decrease the chances of them hopping aboard and pitching in? The question for a lot of non-profits is, “Where we do set up our website and who do we get to do it for us?”

Thankfully newer more modernized platforms like Wix and SquareSpace are making it easier for small budget non-profits to get up and running. Another big one is WordPress, or even Shopify if you plan on selling any kind of digital/physical products to raise funds. To begin discovering the potential, check out WebsiteSetup.org which is a great beginner resource.

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 form a non-profit organization in North Carolina 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 form a non-profit organization in North Carolina or business in general, please consult with a non-profit/corporate lawyer or other accredited professional.