Starting a 501(c)(3) nonprofit is easy, just follow these easy steps:
If you’ve been thinking about starting a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, you have come to the right place. We have developed this comprehensive guide to help you not only start a nonprofit but also make it successful
Use our guides below to learn how to start a nonprofit in your state:
- Alabama 501c3
- Alaska 501c3
- Arizona 501c3
- Arkansas 501c3
- California 501c3
- Colorado 501c3
- Connecticut 501c3
- Delaware 501c3
- Florida 501c3
- Georgia 501c3
- Hawaii 501c3
- Idaho 501c3
- Illinois 501c3
- Indiana 501c3
- Iowa 501c3
- Kansas 501c3
- Kentucky 501c3
- Louisiana 501c3
- Maine 501c3
- Maryland 501c3
- Massachusetts 501c3
- Michigan 501c3
- Minnesota 501c3
- Mississippi 501c3
- Missouri 501c3
- Montana 501c3
- Nebraska 501c3
- Nevada 501c3
- New Hampshire 501c3
- New Jersey 501c3
- New Mexico 501c3
- New York 501c3
- North Carolina 501c3
- North Dakota 501c3
- Ohio 501c3
- Oklahoma 501c3
- Oregon 501c3
- Pennsylvania 501c3
- Rhode Island 501c3
- South Carolina 501c3
- South Dakota 501c3
- Tennessee 501c3
- Texas 501c3
- Utah 501c3
- Vermont 501c3
- Virginia 501c3
- Washington 501c3
- Washington DC 501c3
- West Virginia 501c3
- Wisconsin 501c3
- Wyoming 501c3
Step 1: Name Your Nonprofit
The name you select for your nonprofit will establish its brand. It is the first thing most people will learn about your organization. It is important to pick a name that both aligns with your mission and follows the rules for naming in your state.
Step 2: Appoint a Registered Agent
Most states require nonprofit corporations to have a registered agent who is a resident of the state.
What is a Registered Agent? A registered agent is an individual or business entity responsible for receiving important legal documents on behalf of your business. Think of your registered agent as your business' point of contact with the state.
Step 3: Select Your Board Members and Officers
The directors of a nonprofit are responsible for overseeing the operations of the organization. The directors come together to form a board.
The officers of a nonprofit (such as the president or the secretary) are individuals with responsibilities, and the authority to execute based on their job descriptions.
Together, the officers and the board will come together to make up the organizational structure of your nonprofit.
Step 4: File Articles of Incorporation
To form a nonprofit corporation, you will need to file the required documents with the state.
This is the process of incorporation. The paperwork you will file is most commonly called the “Articles of Incorporation”, "Certificate of Formation" or "Certificate of Organization" depending on your state.
Once your relevant paperwork is filed with the state and accepted, your will have formed a Nonprofit Corporation.
Step 5: Draft Bylaws and Conflict of Interest Policy
There are two documents that will be central to the running of your nonprofit:
Bylaws: These are the rules that determine how your organization will be governed and run.
Conflict of Interest Policy: These are the rules set to ensure that decisions being made for the nonprofit are based on what is best for the organization, and not being motivated by what is best for individuals.
Step 6: Conduct an Organizational Meeting
An organizational meeting is the first official meeting of your nonprofit! Some of the things that are discussed in a typical organizational meeting:
- Taking attendance to show you have a quorum (minimum number needed)
- Appointing temporary officers, chairmen, secretary, etc.
- Adoption of the bylaws
- Adoption of conflict of interest policy
Don’t forget to record “minutes” of the meeting and have it signed by all attending directors. Here are some corporate minutes templates to help you get the ball rolling.
Step 7: Get an EIN
An EIN or Employment Identification Number (also called a Federal Tax Identification Number or Federal Employment Identification Number), is used to uniquely identify a business entity. You can think of the EIN as a social security number for your nonprofit.
The EIN is required for your organization whether or not it will have any employees.
Step 8: Applying for Exemption from Federal Taxes (501c3 status)
A nonprofit may be eligible for 501c3 status only if its purpose is limited to one or more of the following:
Charitable, Religious, Scientific, Educational, Literary, Fostering national/international amateur sports competition, Preventing cruelty to animals/children, Testing for public safety
Before a nonprofit can apply for 501(c)(3) status it must:
- Elect at least 3 directors not related to each other
- Register as a nonprofit with the state
- Adopt the bylaws and conflict of interest policy
- Have an EIN number
Once these four conditions have been met your nonprofit can apply for 501c3 tax exempt status by filing Form-1023 online.
If your application is approved, the IRS will send you a determination letter stating that your organization is exempt from federal taxes under section 501c3.
Step 9: Open a Nonprofit Bank Account
After you acquire an EIN and a federal tax exemption for your nonprofit, you can open a 501(c)(3) bank account to begin soliciting donations or paying vendors and employees of the organization.
Opening a bank account for your nonprofit is the first step towards creating a paper trail of all income and expenses to show the IRS that your nonprofit is legitimate, honest, and legal.
There are several rules and exceptions that differentiate a 501(c)(3) bank account from a traditional business account. To find the best bank for your organization's financial needs read our review of the best banks for small business.
Step 10: Get Insurance for your Nonprofit
A nonprofit has assets and can be the subject of legal action or suffer financial damages from accidents, just like a regular business.
We recommend Tivly to protect your organization from lawsuits and damages.
What Records do You Need to Keep as a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit?
How to Write a Mission Statement For Your Nonprofit
How to Name a Nonprofit
How to Select Your Nonprofit's Board of Directors
Managing Your Nonprofit Directors vs. Officers vs. Trustees