How to Start a Nonprofit Organization in the US

Cersai Stark

Cersai Stark

American ideals are best exemplified through charitable NGOs as their shared values and aspirations have culminated in the establishment of favorable policies and development. Hence, individuals seeking how to start a nonprofit in the US must consider how they can create maximum impact.

In this article, we will outline the registration guidelines for establishing a nonprofit in the United States.


How to start a nonprofit
How to start a nonprofit


  • One of the key areas to consider when seeking how to start a nonprofit is its legal structure 
  • Nonprofit Bylaws entail the internal governing rules of a nonprofit organization.
  • The principal financial and policy choices for a nonprofit organization are made by the board of directors 


What are the guidelines on how to start a nonprofit in the US?

Although establishing a nonprofit organization is not an effortless process, it is, however, possible with the aid of guidelines. This article will provide you with a step-by-step process to help you through launching your nonprofit.

1. Choose a name for your charity

Giving your organization a name is the first step when seeking how to start a nonprofit in the US. To begin with, make sure that the name can be easily distinguished from other legal entities listed within the state. Fortunately, each state has a database available online where you can look up existing business names that have been registered with the state.

2. Select a legal form

Also, one of the key areas to consider in your journey on how to start a nonprofit is its legal structure. By and large, it’s crucial to comprehend the advantages and trade-offs of each option. 

There are four different methods that an individual might choose to consider when setting up a nonprofit. They are unincorporated associations, trusts, corporations, and limited liability companies. For the majority of groups, a corporation gives the most benefits. However, in some circumstances, a trust or an association may be the best option.

3. Choose the state for incorporation

After deciding the preferred legal form for your nonprofit, go ahead to register your organization in the state you intend to incorporate. To begin with, the “Articles of incorporation” must be submitted to the state’s corporate filing office.

The National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) provides details on state-by-state filing requirements for nonprofits. Likewise, U.S. Small Business Administration outlines the state agencies to file incorporation papers. 

4. File for a Federal Tax Exempt Application

The IRS Form 1023 must be submitted electronically for nonprofits to be recognized as exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c) (3). Also, the IRS Form 990, often known as the “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax,” must be completed and submitted.

It should be noted that timing is an essential factor. In accordance with IRS regulations, your organization must apply for nonprofit tax-exempt status by the end of the 27th month following the date your organization is fully incorporated.

This process will require patience because the application procedure might be drawn out and tiresome. Afterward, you will receive a “decision letter” confirming your tax-exempt status if your nonprofit passes the test.

5. Make a state tax exemption application

It should be noted that not all states are required to follow this step. However, to qualify for a state tax exemption, you may need to submit a separate application in a few states. 

In most jurisdictions, your state tax exemption will be granted immediately if you submit your nonprofit articles of incorporation and have received your federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Likewise, some states may require you to submit a copy of the IRS determination letter that awarded your federal exemption in order to receive your state exemption. To learn what actions you need to take, get in touch with your state’s tax authorities.

6. Draft your nonprofit bylaws

Nonprofit Bylaws entail the internal governing rules of a nonprofit organization. Hence, this document contains guidelines for holding meetings, casting ballots on proposals, and choosing directors and executives.

The corporation’s directors typically ratify the bylaws during the first board meeting.

7. Appoint your Board of Directors

The principal financial and policy choices for a nonprofit organization are made by the board of directors. Nonetheless, some states only require one director for NPOs (Nonprofit Organizations), while others demand at least three.

8. Acquire licenses and permits

You might need to apply for licenses and permits to conduct business in the state. This however depends on the many roles and activities your nonprofit performs. Since few states and municipalities outline their criteria in one location, some research will be required.

If you’re interested in learning more about state licensing requirements for your nonprofit, contact your state department of consumer affairs


This step-by-step procedure on how to start a nonprofit in the US will guide you through the formation and registration process. It should be noted that a registered nonprofit cannot undertake both charitable and non-charitable activities. Nonprofits must be set up and established only for charitable purposes.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share your comments and suggestions with us at the bottom of this post. 

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