How to Start a Nonprofit | Step 3: Incorporation and State Forms

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Once you have a solid foundation for your organization, it is time to begin the process of incorporation. State laws and regulations that address the formation of and requirements for nonprofit corporations vary from state to state. We recommend that you connect with your local state association of nonprofits for state-specific resources. The National Council of Nonprofits does not provide legal advice, and the information that follows is provided only as general background information. Consulting with local legal counsel or CPAs experienced with charitable, tax-exempt organizations is essential to ensure you follow the proper process for starting your organization. There is also a DIY option, of course. Determine which state agency, generally the Secretary of State of your state, regulates the formation of corporations and look for the process for starting a nonprofit corporation. In some states the terminology is "non-stock" or "not-for-profit" corporation.

Below are the basic steps. Regulations differ greatly from state to state, so this listing should not be considered comprehensive or a substitute for competent legal counsel/certified public accountants.

  • Reserve/register intended name of the nonprofit corporation to make sure that no one else has created a nonprofit of the same name.
  • File Articles of Incorporation (called a "certificate of incorporation" in some states.) Some states require supplemental information, such as:
    • Certificate of Disclosure
    • Proof of Corporate Name
    • Filing fees - Be sure to follow the instructions on the forms and pay all applicable filing fees.
  • Extra steps, depending on state:
    • In many states you must publish your of articles of incorporation a certain number of times in a local newspaper, then file proof of publication with a state agency.
  • Samples to consider:

Once your organization has incorporated, it is time to move on to Step 4 | Filing for Federal Tax-Exempt Status.

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