DIY How to Set Up a Nonprofit Corporation

Here are the steps to set up a nonprofit corporation, also called a non-profit or 501(c)(3) for your charity purposes. The IRS certain types of groups which they consider “charitable”. These organizations include churches,  religious, political groups, and foundations.

IRS Tax information for Charities and Non-profits

Yes, you can set up your own nonprofit.

1. Pick a name.

The name of your non-profit corporation cannot be the same name of another corporation on file with your state’s corporations office (usually the Secretary of State’s office). It must end with a corporate designator, such as “Corporation,” “Incorporated,” or “Limited,” or an abbreviation of any of those words.

Your state’s corporations office can tell you how to find out whether your proposed name is available for your use. For a small fee, you can usually reserve the name for a short period of time until you file your articles of incorporation. For more information, contact your state’s corporations office.

2. File articles of incorporation.

You must file “articles of incorporation” with the state’s corporate filing office. In this document, you fill out some basic information such as your nonprofit’s name and office address. Although preparing this document isn’t difficult, you do need to include specific language to ensure that you’ll receive tax-exempt status. Your state’s nonprofit formation packet, if available, may include the required information.

3. Apply for your IRS tax exemption.

Submit a federal 501(c)(3) tax exemption application to the IRS (along with a copy of your filed articles with your application). To apply, you must complete IRS Package 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption.

Smaller nonprofits may be eligible to file Form 1023-EZ, Streamlined Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This is a shorter, simpler application form that you complete online. Check the IRS website and instructions to the form which include an Eligibility Worksheet you must complete to determine if your nonprofit meets the requirements for using the shorter streamlined form.

4. Apply for a state tax exemption.

This step does not apply to nonprofits in all states. In a few states, you must complete a separate application to get a state tax exemption. In most states, as long as you file nonprofit articles of incorporation and obtain your federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, your state tax exemption will be automatically granted. In still others, to get your state exemption you must send in a copy of the IRS determination letter that granted your federal exemption. Contact your state tax agency to find out what steps you must take.

5. Draft bylaws.

A nonprofit’s bylaws are the internal governing rules that contain rules and procedures for holding meetings, voting on issues, and electing directors and officers.  Typically, the bylaws are adopted by the corporation’s directors at their first board meeting.

6. Appoint directors.

A nonprofit’s directors make the major policy and financial decisions for the nonprofit. Many states allow nonprofits to have just one director, but other states require at least three.

7. Hold a meeting of the board.

At the first meeting of the board of directors, the directors take care of formalities such as adopting the bylaws, electing officers, and recording the receipt of federal and state tax exemptions. After the meeting is completed, minutes of the meeting should be created and filed in the nonprofit’s records binder.

8. Obtain licenses and permits.

Check with your state department of consumer affairs (or similar state licensing agency) for information concerning state licensing requirements for your type of organization. For instance, if you sell anything to consumers, you’ll need a sales tax permit, and your activities may require a zoning permit.

Compare ZenBusiness Packages

Identify the package that’s right for your business and then get started




plus state filing fees

Ready in about 2 to 3 weeks


Top Features

  • Standard Filing Speed
  • Worry-Free Compliance
  • Expense & Deduction Tracking





plus state filing fees

Ready in about 4 to 6 days


Top Features

  • Faster Expedited Filing Speed
  • Worry-Free Compliance
  • Guided Operating Agreement




plus state filing fees

Ready in about 1 to 2 days


Top Features

  • Fastest Rush Filing Speed
  • Domain Name & Email Address
  • Customizable Business Website

*SPECIAL OFFER – *SPECIAL OFFER – get Starter for $0 plus state fees. Easily add other services as you start and grow your business.

Get started image

Ready to get started?

Get the expert support you need

Start Now

Related Articles

How to Get Started in Business Selling Insurance

Team ZenBusiness, on October 11, 2022

Get Your Recipe to the Market

by Team ZenBusiness, on October 05, 2022

What Medical Professionals Need to Know Before Opening Their Own Practice

by Team ZenBusiness, on October 10, 2022

How to Start A Bakery Step-by-Step: Sweet Success!

by Team ZenBusiness, on October 10, 2022

Reasons You Need a Flour Mill for Your Bakery and How to Choose the Right One

Team ZenBusiness, on October 13, 2022

Should Your Restaurant Business be an LLC – Limited Liability Company?

Team ZenBusiness, on February 08, 2023