Starting a nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania is easy
To start a Pennsylvania 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, you'll need to first register a nonprofit corporation with the state of Pennsylvania, and then apply for tax exempt status under section 501(c)(3) with the Internal Revenue Service.
Step 1: Name Your Pennsylvania 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.
Pennsylvania Nonprofit Naming Guidelines
The name you pick for your organization must:
- Be easily distinguishable from other businesses operating in Pennsylvania.
- Not imply that the organization is part of a government agency.
- Not imply that the organization is a public utility company.
- Any words or terms that could be considered grossly offensive, including blasphemy and profanity.
- Terms associated with financial institutions such as: ‘Bank’, ‘bank and trust’, ‘trust’ or ‘trust company.
- Terms associated with educational institutions such as: ‘college’, ‘university’, ‘seminary’.
- Not imply that the organization is an insurance company or use terms associated with insurance such as: ‘annuity’, ‘casualty’, ‘insurance’, etc.
- Terms associated with specific professions such as: ‘certified public accountant’, ‘public accountant’, ‘architect’, ‘engineer’, ‘surveyor’, ‘pharmacist’, ‘homeopathic’, etc.
- Terms associated with the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) or any words that may make the public think your organization is associated with the state YMCA unless state YMCA regulations have been followed.
You can read the Pennsylvania State Guidelines for the complete rules on naming a Pennsylvania-based organization.
To learn more, read our How to Name a Pennsylvania 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.
Northwest ($39 + state fee)
Step 2: Appoint a Pennsylvania Registered Agent
A nonprofit corporation in Pennsylvania is required to have a registered agent with a Pennsylvania 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 ($39 + State Fees)
To learn more, read our Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation MUST include:
- At least 3 directors not related to each other
- A president
- A secretary
- A treasurer
NOTE: Two or more offices can be held by the same person.
To learn more, read our guide on How to Select Board Members for Your Pennsylvania Nonprofit.
Step 4: Pennsylvania Articles of Incorporation
To become a nonprofit corporation in Pennsylvania you must file DSCB:15-5306/7102, the Articles of Incorporation for Nonprofit Corporations.
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
The filing fee is $125.
- Checks and money orders for mailed forms must be made payable to the "Department of State"
- Accepted credit cards for online filing include Visa and MasterCard
To learn more, read our Pennsylvania Articles of Incorporation guide.
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: Get a Pennsylvania Tax Identification Number
As a nonprofit in Pennsylvania, you will also need to register for appropriate state-level tax IDs using the PA-100 online portal.
For more information, you can call the Department of Revenue at (717) 787-1064 or visit them at their website.
Step 9: Applying for Exemption from State and Federal Taxes (501(c)(3) status)
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 will automatically be exempt from state corporate income tax.
For more information, you can call the Department of Revenue at (717) 783-5473 or visit them at their office found at the address below:
Department of Revenue
Bureau of Business Trust Fund Taxes
Miscellaneous Tax Division
Harrisburg, PA 17128-0909
Once you have formed your Pennsylvania nonprofit, we recommend you read our guide on How To Protect your Pennsylvania 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 Commercial Insurance to protect your organization from lawsuits and damages.