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Start Your Non-Profit

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The process of forming a nonprofit and applying for tax exemption, like forming a regular corporation, can be a complicated process, but knowing the necessary requirements can make it more manageable.


1. Develop a Business Plan

  • Define the purpose and goals of the organization
  • Research the issues and determine what resources you have and need
  • Establish your priorities
  • Market your idea to possible volunteers, board members, and donor
  • Create a budget and timeline


2. Choose a business Name


After checking corporate name availability through your state’s filing office,choose a business name.


3. Create Articles of Incorporation


This is the legal document that brings the business to life. It includes important information like the nature of the company and the location of the corporate headquarters. Once accepted, the corporation becomes its own legal entity. 

4. Apply for Tax Exemptions


Submit your federal tax exemption application to the IRS. It can take 3-12 months for the IRS to finalize a decision, after which you will receive approval or denial. If you are denied federal tax exemption, but believe you qualify, consider consulting an attorney. In most states, federal tax exempt status includes state tax exemption. In a few states, however, you must apply separately. Contact your state tax agency for details.

5. Create Non-Profit Bylaws


This document defines the corporation's structure, specifies how the corporation will conduct its affairs, determines the fiscal year of the corporation, and lists the rights and responsibilities of the officers and shareholders.

6. Appoint Directors


The initial board of directors will help coordinate planning and fund raising, translating the organization’s vision into reality. As the organization progresses, the structure of the board and its members may change.

7. Hold a First Meeting and Take Minutes


This document is used to record the official actions taken during the first formal meeting of the board of directors. It generally consists of electing officers, recording the receipt of tax exemptions, adopting bylaws, setting up bank accounts, and admitting members.

8. Obtain Licenses and Permits


Before officially conducting business, many businesses are required to obtain certain state and local permits and licenses. Check with your state department of consumer affairs or state licensing agency for more information.

9. Establish Record Keeping and Accounting


Always be sure to keep official records of business activity. Things such as corporate documents, board meeting minutes, financial reports, and other records should be filed and saved for protection of potential legal liability. Public charities are required to make public their IRS 990 forms, which disclose the organization’s financials, mission and operations.

Laws and regulations for nonprofits vary by state, so be sure to consult your state government agencies for specific information. And if you have any concerns if you're doing things right, you can always ask a lawyer your Non-Profit questions. 

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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