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Start a nonprofit

Gain credibility and enable tax deductions for your donors with an official nonprofit organization.
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Jim G. | Co-Founder, Tech4America
Incorporated using Rocket Lawyer in 2012

How to start a nonprofit organization

Form a nonprofit online with fast, personalized support.

Tell us about your business

Answer a few simple questions.

We do the paperwork for you

We reserve your business name and take care of your filing.

Stay protected

Get affordable legal services for every stage of growth.

Choose a business structure

Compare the advantages and disadvantages of each entity type to find the one that's best for your business.





Sole proprietorship

Managing your business

Limited liability

Incorporation can protect business owners and shareholders from personal financial responsibility for business debts or liability.

Members are protected

Shareholders are protected

Shareholders are protected

Directors are protected

Sole proprietors are not protected

Management flexibility

Some entities are more rigid than others when it comes to structure.

Variety of management structures

Defined by state and federal law

Defined by state and federal law

Strict management laws

No management structure

Favorable for financing

Depending on your goals, certain entity types may be more suitable.

Gains credibility when applying for loans and grants

Can distribute one class of stock to up to 100 people

Can issue multiple classes of stock to unlimited shareholders

Gains credibility when applying for loans and grants

Often more difficult to get loans and cannot issue stock


Compliance requirements vary by state and entity type

Easy to maintain and often most affordable

Payroll requirements may create operational overhead

Requires more complex accounting and potentially more reporting and fees

Typically the most demanding due to tax-exempt status

No requirements or fees

Unlimited lifetime

Succession planning may be important to you. If so, you'll need a business structure that enables a smooth transition.

With the proper planning, LLCs can exist for generations

Existence is not tied to specific shareholders

Existence is not tied to specific shareholders

Existence is not tied to specific directors

No longer exists when the owner quits or passes away

Tax considerations

Tax treatment

Your choice of entity can impact your tax rate and filing options.

Pass-through taxes: Most often, LLC members are taxed on their personal tax returns

Pass-through taxes: S-corp shareholders are taxed on their personal tax returns

Double taxation: C-corp income is taxed at the corporate level first, then again at the personal level

Nonprofits can apply for tax-exempt status and donations are tax-deductible

Sole proprietorships are taxed only on their owner's tax return.

Formation fees

State filing fees are required for all legal entities. As a Rocket Lawyer member, you only pay state fees.

Fees are tax-deductible

Fees are tax-deductible

Fees are tax-deductible

Fees are tax-deductible

No fees

Nonprofit organization FAQs

  • Can one person start a nonprofit organization?

    Yes, with some exceptions.

    Most states allow a single person to register a nonprofit corporation. There are some exceptions. For instance, New Jersey requires three initial directors to be named in the Certificate of Incorporation. Incorporation is not the only option, however.

    Many states recognize the nonprofit association. This is a semi-formal business entity that provides some protection from liability for the individuals involved in the nonprofit. Also, some states, such as Pennsylvania and Kentucky, recognize the nonprofit limited liability company. Most states allow one person to start a nonprofit association and a nonprofit limited liability company.

  • How much does it cost to form a nonprofit?

    Fees for forming a nonprofit differ from state to state, starting from as low as $8 and going as high as $125, not to mention annual fees you may need to pay to maintain the status of your nonprofit.

    You could choose to handle the filling process on your own, or you could get help from a business that provides filing services. The Business Services team at Rocket Lawyer are experts when it comes to the legal requirements for nonprofit formation and the steps and processes required to file in the state of your choice. They can help you gather and file the necessary information quickly and at an affordable price. If you join Rocket Lawyer as a member, you pay only your state's filing fees. Membership is only $39.99 per month. Non-members pay only $99.99 plus state fees.

    If you do not have a physical address in the state where you formed your nonprofit, you may need to designate a registered agent, someone who receives all official and legal correspondence for your nonprofit. Note that P.O. boxes do not count as a physical address. If you don't know of anyone who can serve as your registered agent, the Business Services team can help you with that as well. Rocket Lawyer registered agent fees are $149.99, with a 25% discount with membership.

  • Are there different types of nonprofits?

    While we hear about 501(c)(3)s the most, there are other types of nonprofits. The IRS recognizes 27 types of nonprofit organizations. The most familiar type is charitable organizations. Others include:

    • 501(c)(4) Civic League, Social Welfare Organization, or Local Employee Association.
    • 501(c)(5) Labor, Agricultural and Horticultural.
    • 501(c)(6) Trade or Professional Association.
    • 501(c)(7) Social or Recreational Club.
    • 501(c)(8) Fraternal Societies.
    • 501(c)(9) Employee Beneficiary Association.
    • 501(c)(12) Local Benevolent Life Insurance Associations, Mutual Irrigation and Telephone Companies, and Like Organizations.
    • 501(c)(14) State Chartered Credit Union and Mutual Reserve Fund.
    • 501(c)(19) Veterans Organizations.
    • 501(c)(29) CO-OP Health Insurance Issuers.
  • What is the difference between a nonprofit and a 501(c)(3) organization?

    A lot. All 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations are nonprofits but not all nonprofits are 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations.

    A nonprofit is a state law concept. It is an organization that meets the requirements of its state nonprofit law and registers as a nonprofit organization. While most people think of nonprofits as charitable organizations, states recognize many types of nonprofits, including many that do not perform charitable activities. Insurance companies, industry-specific professional societies, homeowners' associations, and social clubs are just a few examples of nonprofits that are not necessarily 501(c)(3) organizations.

    Since nonprofit status is a state law concept, there is variation among the states as to nonprofit requirements. For example, some states allow a nonprofit to have only one director while other states require three directors. Some states allow nonprofits to organize as a limited liability company while other states only allow nonprofits to register as a nonprofit or non-stock corporation, unincorporated association, or charitable trust.

    In contrast, a 501(c)(3) organization is a federal law concept. A 501(c)(3) organization is a nonprofit organization that is exempt from most state and federal income tax because it applied for recognition as exempt from tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

    A 501(c)(3) organization must operate for exempt purposes. The exempt purpose must be charitable, scientific, educational, religious, literary, public safety, amateur sports competition, or the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.

    In addition, a 501(c)(3) organization may engage in only very limited political and lobbying activity. The nonprofits that engage in these activities must qualify under a different section of the Internal Revenue Code.

  • How do I get 501(c)(3) status?

    Most nonprofits want 501(c)(3) status. As a 501(c)(3) organization, the nonprofit is exempt from paying state and federal income tax on income that is related to the nonprofit's purposes. Additionally, donors may receive an income tax deduction on the value of donations made to 501(c)(3) organizations.

    To obtain 501(c)(3) status, the nonprofit must meet the requirements of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This means the nonprofit must be operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, educational, or other purposes specified in section 501(c)(3).

    Second, to earn the coveted 501(c)(3) status, a nonprofit must file an IRS Form 1023-EZ or Form 1023.

    Form 1023-EZ is used by small organizations that do not have (or expect to have) more than $250,000 in total assets and $50,000 in annual gross income within the next three years and are not required to file one of the other tax-exemption applications. Certain types of nonprofits cannot use Form 1023-EZ. Common examples are hospitals, schools, foreign charities, and unincorporated nonprofits. In addition, nonprofits that have had their 501(c)(3) status revoked cannot use the 1023-EZ. Instead, they must use the longer Form 1023.

    Form 1023 is used by nonprofits that are not eligible to file the 1023-EZ. This form is much longer than Form 1023-EZ and asks in-depth questions about how the board of directors will operate, the specific purposes of the organization, and how the organization will raise money. In addition, Form 1023 requires the submission of a multi-year budget and copies of the organization's Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and Conflict of Interests policy.

    The IRS will review the application and if it approves it, the nonprofit organization will receive 501(c)(3) status.

  • How long does it take for a 501(c)(3) to be approved?

    It depends on the type of application.

    Form 1023-EZ is designed to be a faster process. The 1023-EZ requests limited information and does not require the nonprofit to submit additional documents. The IRS generally reviews and grants 501(c)(3) status within 4 to 6 months of submitting the 1023-EZ application.

    Form 1023 is a longer form and a longer process. This form requires the submission of many documents, including bylaws, incorporation documents, and a Conflicts of Interest Policy. The IRS generally reviews and grants 501(c)(3) status within 9 to 12 months of submitting the 1023 application.

    Review and approval will take longer than the average time if the application is missing information, if the IRS needs additional information about the nonprofit, or if the IRS requests the nonprofit to amend some of its organizing documents.

    A common reason for the delay in approval is inadequate organizing documents. Most state nonprofit statutes and standard incorporation forms do not contain language that is necessary to obtain 501(c)(3) status. Therefore, the IRS will require the nonprofit to amend its organizing documents (which requires paying a fee to the state to amend the documents) before approving the 1023 application.

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