Before starting a nonprofit, you’ll need to have what’s called an entity. An entity is simply a person, partnership, organization, or business that has a legal and separately identifiable existence. Below are instructions for forming one.
Pick a Name For Your Organization
First, you’ll need to pick a name for your organization. This is because every form and application you fill out to form your future nonprofit will require a name. When you are honing in on your name, it is suggested to consider what web domain names are available.
Name Availability And Name Reservation
This step is done at the state level and accomplished through your State’s Secretary of State office. (Side Note: You can skip this step if you are ready to file your articles of incorporation. If you don’t know what articles of incorporation are, keep reading.) In many states, it takes just as much time to reserve as it does to file and get the name. Some states offer a name availability check to see if a name is available. Some states offer a name reservation so you can lock in your name, preventing someone else from getting it. Many states also offer a name availability or name reservation online option. In the Tools section of our resource center, we offer links to find your corresponding state’s Secretary of State Office. Click here to be taken there. (Link: https://www.thebalance.com/secretary-of-state-websites-1201005)
Buy Your Web Domain
Once you have selected a name, you’ll want to purchase a domain name for your future website. While you’re not required to have an online presence for your nonprofit, it is integral to the success of most nonprofits. (Do we want to offer possible suggestions for sites to purchase domain names?)
Draft Articles of Incorporation
You now need to draft your ‘Articles of Incorporation.’ They are typically a one-page document, with many of the paragraphs exact text that the State wants to see. As each State has different requirements as to what needs to be in your articles of incorporation, you’ll want to see a sample articles of incorporation specifically for your state. Our Templates section under the Tools category provides a sample of an article of incorporation. Click here to see it.
File Your Articles of Incorporation
You can take your Articles of Incorporation into your Secretary of State office, or you can mail them in. Turning them in over the counter results in corporate formation very quickly, while mailing them in can sometimes take weeks or months. If you can’t make it to your Secretary of State office and don’t want to wait the weeks or months mailing them in takes, then you can hire a service to turn them in over the counter for you. This usually costs about $100. On our blog, we provide a list of service companies that can do that. Click here for more.
If you are mailing in your articles of incorporation you may want a cover letter. In the Templates category under the Tools section, we provide a sample AoI cover letter. Click here for more.
Once you’ve been approved, congratulations! Your organization is now a legal entity with your state. For the next step toward becoming an actual nonprofit, we’ve created a checklist here for you to follow. Just click here.