Starting a nonprofit organization in North Carolina is easy
To start a North Carolina 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, you'll need to first register a nonprofit corporation with the state of North Carolina, and then apply for tax exempt status under section 501(c)(3) with the Internal Revenue Service.
Step 1: Name Your North Carolina 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.
North Carolina Nonprofit Naming Guidelines
According to the North Carolina Secretary of State, the name of you pick for your organization should adhere to the following guidelines:
- An entity name shall not contain language stating or implying that the entity is organized for any purpose other than a purpose that is lawful and that is permitted by its formation documents. (i.e., Articles of Incorporation).
- The name must be distinguishable upon the records of the secretary of state from the name of any other entity on the business registry. By Administrative Code, the business entity suffix of the name (i.e., inc., LLC) is not used to determine distinguishability on the records.
- An entity name shall not contain words offensive to accepted standards of decency.
Your nonprofit’s name need not include an organizational designation, such as “Inc.”, “Ltd.”, “Incorporated”, or “Company”
You can read the Secretary of State's official guidelines for the complete rules on naming a North Carolina-based organization.
To learn more, read our How to Name a North Carolina Nonprofit guide.
Not sure what to name your business? Check out our Business Name Generator.
Is the URL available?
We recommend that you check online to see if your business name is available as a web domain. Even if you don't plan to create a business website today, you may want to buy the URL in order to prevent others from acquiring it.
Find a Domain Now
Now that you have verified your name and secured the URL you may select a professional service to complete the nonprofit formation process for you.
We recommend: Northwest ($29 + state fee)
Step 2: Appoint a North Carolina Registered Agent
A nonprofit corporation in North Carolina is required to have a registered agent with a North Carolina address.
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.
Northwest provides the first year of registered agent service free with nonprofit formation ($29 + State Fees)
To learn more, read our How To Pick a North Carolina Registered Agent guide.
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.
To be eligible for 501(c)(3) status, the organization structure of your North Carolina nonprofit corporation MUST include:
- At least 3 directors not related to each other
NOTE: One person can hold 2 or more offices
To learn more, read our guide on how to select board members for your nonprofit.
Step 4: File the North Carolina Articles of Incorporation and Transmittal Information Form
To become a nonprofit corporation in North Carolina you must file the Articles of Incorporation Form with the State of North Carolina.
In order to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, the organization’s purpose must explicitly be limited to one or more of the following:
- Testing for public safety
- Fostering national/international amateur sports competition
- Preventing cruelty to animals/children
You will need to mail the following to the Secretary of State:
- Articles of Incorporation
- A nonrefundable filing fee of $60.00 payable to the Secretary of State.
Business Registration Division
PO Box 29622
Raleigh, NC 27262-0622
To learn more, read our guide on How to File the North Carolina Articles of Incorporation.
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, secretaries, 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.
To learn more, read our guide on how to get your EIN.
Step 8: Applying for State Tax ID
Since you are operating in North Carolina, you will also want to file for your North Carolina State Tax Account. To do this, you need to file form NC-BR with the North Carolina Department of Revenue. This form can be submitted via mail or online.
Step 9: Applying for Exemption from Federal (501(c)(3) status) and State Taxes
Applying for Exemption from Federal Taxes:
A nonprofit may be eligible for 501(c)(3) 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 501(c)(3) 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 501(c)(3).
To learn more, read our guide on How to File Form 1023-EZ.
Applying for Exemption from State Taxes:
Once you have received your 501(c)(3) determination letter from the IRS, you can file for a state income tax exemption by providing a copy of the Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and Determination Letter to the Department of Revenue.
Typically, the Department of Revenue will send your nonprofit a letter and questionnaire after you’ve registered as a nonprofit. This questionnaire, plus the supporting documentation should be mailed back to the Department of Revenue to secure tax-exempt status.
To file to obtain a sales tax refund fill out Form E-585 - Nonprofit and Governmental Entity Claim for Refund State, County, and Transit Sales and Use Taxes.
Once you have formed your North Carolina nonprofit, we recommend you read our guide on How To Protect your North Carolina Nonprofit and Keep It Compliant.
Step 10: 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 11: 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.