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How to Start a Nonprofit

One of the most common questions we hear at the Council of Nonprofits is "How do I start my own nonprofit?" By following the steps below, we hope that many of your questions will be answered. These resources are certainly no substitute for legal advice from an attorney familiar with the law of tax-exempt organizations in your state. Many state associations of nonprofits offer workshops on this topic or have published guidance either on their website or in booklet form to help founders of nonprofit organizations with basic start-up issues. While we offer the resources here for informational purposes, we highly recommend also consulting with legal counsel to ensure that you are in compliance with all federal, state, and local regulations governing the establishment and operations of a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.

Step 1: Research

Before starting a nonprofit, it is critical to examine the need for another nonprofit. This section will help you ask the right questions before embarking on this process.

Step 2: Key Questions to Ask Before Getting Started

Once you have done research and determined that a new nonprofit organization is necessary, then think like a reporter and ask these six basic questions.

Step 3: State Forms

Laws and regulations on starting a nonprofit organization vary from state to state. In this section, we provide a brief general primer to help get you started. 

Step 4: Federal Filings

Find links to the federal forms you will need to file to start your nonprofit.

Step 5: Heavy Lifting

In addition to federal filings, you will need to complete some state paperwork and establish plans, policies, and procedures for your new organization.

Where to Find Assistance

Resources to assist you in this process include: