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A Non Profit organization (NPO) is a business entity where making a profit is not a primary mission. Typically, Non Profits are engaged in charitable, educational, religious, or artistic activities of public or private interest. Since Non Profit organizations cannot distribute profit to their directors, officers, or members (those who participate in the management of the Non Profit) any income generated by the Non Profit must ultimately go back into the organization. However, Non Profits can hire and pay staff to carry out operational and administrative functions.
If you choose to incorporate your Non Profit as a 501(c) corporation, you can choose from 26 types – 501(c)(1) to 501(c)(26). Section 501(c)(3) is the most common federal tax exemption for Non Profits, which exempts the Non Profit from taxes on income directly related to the organization’s mission. Therefore, many Non Profits are often referred to as 501(c)(3) corporations. Refer to IRS.gov to learn more about other types of 501(c) incorporation.
Forming a Non Profit 501(c)(3) Corporation
Incorporation for Non Profits is very similar to creating a regular corporation, but with the extra steps of applying for tax-exempt status with the IRS and your state tax department. Becoming a Non Profit corporation requires some paperwork, but for many groups the benefits of Non Profit status outweigh the complications.
Here are the steps you must take to incorporate your Non Profit:
Choose a Business Name. Your business name (1) must be different from an existing corporation registered in your state’s office and (2) must indicate that it is a corporation by ending with the words: “corporation,” “incorporated,” “limited,” or a variation of those designations.
File your Incorporation Paperwork. You must next file formal paperwork, or articles of incorporation, and pay a small filing fee to your state. These “articles” contain basic structural information, such as the Non Profit name, its registered agent and office address, and membership structure, if any. You can find information about filing articles of incorporation by state on Business.gov’s Business Incorporation page. You can also look up your state office through the National Association of State Charity Officials* (NASCO).
Create Corporate Bylaws. Corporate bylaws outline the rules of operation for your Non Profit corporation, which includes procedures like holding meetings and electing directors. Tax regulations and other state laws are often covered in the bylaws to ensure that the Non Profit is running legally.
Appoint Directors and Hold a Board Meeting. Depending on your state, your Non Profit must appoint at least 1 or sometimes even 3 directors to make major decisions in the corporation. Some states require that you appoint directors before filing your articles of incorporation. Afterward the appointment, directors formally adopt the bylaws and elect officers at the board meeting.
Obtain Licenses and Permits. You must obtain relevant business licenses and permits like any other business. Regulations vary by industry, state and locality. Use the Licensing & Permits tool on Business.gov to find a listing of federal, state and local permits, licenses, and registrations you’ll need to run a business.
Start Fundraising. Now that your NPO is officially established you’ll need to pay attention to its bread and butter – fundraising. State offices of the National Association of State Charity Officials* (NASCO) provide local fundraising regulations. While individual donors amount to the largest contributors to Non Profits, federal, state and local governments offer grants, loans and programs to fund NPO projects. Learn more about funding opportunities for your Non Profit on USA.gov.
Hiring Employees. If you are hiring employees, read more about federal and state regulations for employers.
Taxes. Most businesses will need to register with the IRS and state and local revenue agencies, and obtain a tax ID number or permit. WE CAN HELP!
Non Profit organizations are not automatically exempt from federal and state taxes. Therefore, Non Profit organizations seeking tax-exemption must formally apply for federal recognition and in many cases state recognition. Before you apply, make sure that your Non Profit organization satisfies the following requirements from the IRS.
Eligible Non Profits can file for federal and state tax exemptions once their articles of incorporation are registered with the state. The instructions below outline the application process for Section 501(c)(3) status, the most common federal and state tax exemption for Non Profits:
Apply for Non Profit Federal Tax Exemptions. Submit an application to the IRS for your federal Non Profit status as a 501(c)(3) organization. You must file a Form 8718, User Fee for Exempt Organization Determination Letter Request and Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption with the IRS. It’s best to file within 27 months after the date of your incorporation. Learn more about the application process and other requirements and responsibilities of 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations from the IRS.