Registering a non-profit organization can be a difficult and tedious process, especially without proper guidance. There are varied reasons to start a non-profit: fund-raising for a particular cause, like personal reasons, political agenda, academic research and development, you name it. Whatever your reason is, or however noble it may be, you’ll need to register your organization just like everyone else.
Despite your pre-planning, organized board or noble intentions, you can’t take your organization off the ground without proper registration. Here are a few easy steps to get you on your way:
- If you haven’t already done so, write your organizational bylaws which will be based on your mission statement –what are your goals and how do you plan on achieving them? Early on, it might be best to keep your mission statement short and direct to the point (at least keep it to just 1 page).
- Write your organization’s Articles of Incorporation. You may be able to accomplish this even without a lawyer. Have your written articles approved by the board of directors, or your organization’s officers. Have these filed with the necessary paperwork to the corresponding government agency.
- The state will have the necessary guidelines with which you can properly file your bylaws and Articles of Incorporation. Follow these guidelines.
- Follow state rules on getting an Employer Identification Number or EIN. This is the first step to opening a bank account for you organization’s purposes, and also for applying for tax exemption.
- Get a lawyer who can accurately define your organization’s purposes vis-à-vis tax exemption. Since a lot of people are interested in starting non-profit organizations in the US (some not entirely for non-profit reasons), the government is very particular about this. This will be easier for you if your goals are legitimately cultural, educational, religious, or scientific, for the purposes of federal tax exemption.
- Get a fundraising license if necessary. This depends on your city and state’s rules. This is crucial because one of the ways a non-profit generates money to operate is through fundraising, other than getting direct fiscal sponsorship.
- Since your non-profit is exempt from normal tax payments, the government will want to keep a close eye on your operations. The keyword here is transparency. Set up a system to keep a record of board meetings, employee records, and fiscal information. Early on, this will require a lot of work, but as the ball gets rolling, your non-profit will most likely develop this system naturally.
- Get an accountant. File for the necessary insurance your operations need and might need later on. If your organization outreaches to dangerous areas for instance, you will need to get special insurance for your employees and volunteers. There are of course, plenty of other reasons to get insurance, which your lawyer and accountant will gladly sort out for you.
- Lastly, more than the time and effort this process will take, you’ll also need money for employee and registration fees, especially incorporation fees. Don’t run out of funds before you get your organization off the ground.