If you’re starting a nonprofit, the hardest part is just that, starting! No matter what your mission or goals are, it's essential for you to establish your organization as a recognized nonprofit first. To do this, there are several forms to complete depending on your situation. Here’s some guidance to help get you started and all the forms/applications you will need for beginning your nonprofit journey.
Articles of Incorporation for a Nonprofit
Filing your articles of incorporation, or certificate of incorporation, is one of the first steps you will take; this is filed with your state. This is your primary corporate document. It establishes your organization once they filed with your state’s corporate office, including California.
The information here includes a basic description of your company, including its name, the registered agent, and the membership structure if you have one. Think of this form as establishing existence of your corporation or business.
Statement of Information (Form SI-100)
The California secretary of state will provide Form SI-100 for your nonprofit and this information is submitted every two years (though some states may have different rules). This is a short form so don’t be scared. It provides information about the processing agents, addresses, and corporate officers that are a part of your organization.
Tax Exemption and State Exemption (IRS Form 1023) and 501(c)(3) Forms
Letting the IRS know that you have a nonprofit is an important first step for avoiding any confusions and delays later on. You will need to submit a federal 501(c)(3) tax exemption application to the agency to do this and will need to file it with your articles of incorporation. To do this, you will complete form IRS Package 1023, called Application for Recognition of Exemption.
If your nonprofit organization is smaller, you may be able to use the Form 1023-EZ. It’s more streamlined and faster to turn in but is only recommended for an easy-to-understand organization.
In all cases, filing for this exemption is important. It’s crucial to file within 27 months of the date you get your articles of incorporation. Once you file and achieve tax-exempt status, you can then access grant funding for your organization, secure property and income tax exemptions, and be able to provide those donating to you with a tax deductible form.
Initial Registration Form (Form CT-1)
In California, Form CT-1 is a starting point. It helps the Attorney General know of your company and mission. This form does not take long to fill out and works more so as an alert – so the Attorney General knows your organization is starting up. All charities must file this form. Over time, you will need to renew this with form RRF-1 as well as CT 694, an annual financial solicitation report.
The bylaws of your nonprofit corporation are perhaps one of the most important and exciting forms you will face! They exist as the manual, so to speak, of your organization.
They outline all rules within your organization, ranging from how the board is chosen to how many people are appointed. Adding your tax and governance rules to your bylaws is also common.
Bylaws are easier to change and modify over time, compared to the articles of incorporation, but should be as thorough as possible.
This is a crucial step in your journey as you are finally defining your nonprofit’s rules, and getting a clear idea of what you want. I say this form is “exciting” because you are giving your organization its first breath of life.
Employer Identification Number (EIN)
An EIN is necessary if your organization plans to hire anyone. All businesses and nonprofits need to obtain this. Keep in mind, it is the equivalent of a nonprofit’s Social Security number and you will use it to identify your business for all financial reporting. Your EIN is rather easy to get so again don’t be alarmed. It is done through the IRS by completing a basic application.
Approval is available nearly right away, which means you can easily get your EIN at the start of your business, crossing that off your to-do list.
State Business Licenses
It’s important to have proper licensing for your organization. The California consumer affairs or other types of divisions can help you with this. State licensing depends on the type of organization you have and is based on whether you sell products or services to the public. It’s possible you will also need a zoning permit for your organization as well as a sales tax permit if you are selling a product so keep that in mind and do your research.
Charitable Solicitation Registration
To raise funds for your organization, you need to complete a Charitable Solicitation Registration. You need to do this before you raise funds for your effort. This is another type of registration to show that your organization is a worthy and legit nonprofit. This is done by the National Association of State Charity Officials.
Each of these documents is one step in getting your organization up and running. Working with an attorney may be a necessary step towards this goal for some who want to make sure all the correct paper work is properly filed.
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