How to start a nonprofit

Starting a nonprofit organization requires careful planning, research, and compliance with state and federal regulations. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you start a nonprofit.

Starting a nonprofit organization requires careful planning, research, and compliance with state and federal regulations. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you start a nonprofit:

Research and Planning (Weeks 1-4)

  1. Define your mission and purpose: Identify the specific cause or community you want to serve, and craft a clear mission statement.
  2. Conduct a needs assessment: Research existing organizations addressing similar issues and identify gaps in services or opportunities to innovate.
  3. Develop a business plan: Outline your organization’s goals, strategies, financial projections, and operational structure.
  4. Choose a business name: Ensure your chosen name is available and compliant with state regulations.
  5. Form a board of directors: Recruit a diverse group of individuals passionate about your cause to serve as your initial board.

Filing with the State (Weeks 5-8)

  1. Choose a state to incorporate: Decide which state to incorporate your nonprofit, considering factors like tax laws, filing fees, and charitable solicitation requirements.
  2. File articles of incorporation: Submit your articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State’s office, including your organization’s name, purpose, and structure.
  3. Obtain any necessary licenses and permits: Check with your state and local government to determine if you need any licenses or permits to operate.

Filing with the IRS (Weeks 9-16)

  1. Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN): Obtain an EIN from the IRS, which is required for tax filing and banking purposes.
  2. File Form 1023 or Form 1024: Submit your application for tax-exempt status with the IRS, including detailed information about your organization’s purpose, structure, and finances.
  3. Wait for IRS approval: This process can take several months, during which time you can begin operating as a nonprofit, but not yet receive tax-deductible donations.

Technology Considerations (Ongoing)

  1. Website development: Create a professional website to share information, engage with supporters, and accept online donations.
  2. Donation management software: Choose a platform to track and manage donations, such as Network for Good, Classy, or Qgiv.
  3. Email marketing tools: Select an email service provider like Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or Klaviyo to communicate with supporters and stakeholders.
  4. Social media presence: Establish a strong social media presence to engage with your audience and promote your mission.
  5. Data management and security: Implement measures to protect sensitive donor information and ensure compliance with data protection regulations.
  6. Accounting and financial management software: Use tools like QuickBooks, Xero, or Aplos to manage your finances, track expenses, and prepare for audits.

Read here to learn more about what technology you need and how to get free or discounted plans.


Additional Considerations

  1. Obtain necessary insurance: Consider liability insurance, directors and officers insurance, and other types of coverage to protect your organization.
  2. Develop a fundraising strategy: Create a plan to secure funding, including grant writing, events, and individual donor outreach.
  3. Establish a governance structure: Develop policies and procedures for board governance, financial management, and operational oversight.
  4. Comply with state charitable solicitation laws: Register with your state charity registration office, if required, and comply with ongoing reporting requirements.


  • Weeks 1-4: Research and planning
  • Weeks 5-8: Filing with the state
  • Weeks 9-16: Filing with the IRS
  • Ongoing: Technology considerations and additional tasks


  • National Council of Nonprofits: A comprehensive resource for nonprofit organizations, including guides, webinars, and advocacy.
  • IRS Tax Exempt and Government Entities: The official IRS website for tax-exempt organizations, featuring forms, publications, and guidance.
  • State charity registration offices: Contact your state’s charity registration office for specific requirements and regulations.

Remember, starting a nonprofit organization requires dedication, perseverance, and attention to detail. Stay organized, seek professional advice when needed, and focus on making a positive impact in your community.