Nonprofit Essentials: Setting Up

As a general rule, nonprofits come from VERY humble beginnings. If you feel at first as if you’re making it up as you go along, you are certainly not the exception. But, if you’re dedicated to what you’re doing and are willing to put in the work, then you’re ready to take the next steps and expand your efforts by establishing a nonprofit organization. Before you start filling out forms (learn to love them), you need backup. It’s time to assemble your officers.

Putting a team together

Right now, both in your community and scattered around your social networks, there are people just like you having a very similar idea. If you have identified a community problem to solve, there will be others out there with first-hand knowledge and a story to tell. Seek these people out and start a conversation. Identify not only those who are passionate about your cause but those with the skills your organization needs to get off the ground.

The process of finding the right people is an organic one often fraught with trial and error, but identifying and working with a few like-minded colleagues with complementary skills is one of those essential steps. When it clicks, you’ll know it. Then it’s time to make it official. As a group, elect your officers and describe their responsibilities. A little online research will yield examples of these offices and templates for creating bylaws – a simple set of written rules dealing with how the group and its meetings will function – to mediate conflicts of interest and detail how members should join or leave the group.


With a team together, it’s time to take the leap and file your articles of incorporation. The rules for doing so will vary slightly from state to state. It is always preferable to consult a lawyer (or find one to join your group). It’s also possible to do your homework and file the documents yourself or through one of the many online incorporation services. You will need a unique name for your organization in order to incorporate, and also some filing fees.

Market Research

As you go about selecting a name for your organization, take the time to research what intellectual property is available. Select a name that leads to a website URL that is both available and easy to remember. Go ahead and set up your social media pages. Research and secure all the branded real estate your organization will need when it starts communicating. The worst thing is incorporating under a name and then realizing it is taken by another industry or location. Find a simple, short, compelling, original name. No pressure.

Filing for tax-exempt status

Finally, after choosing a compelling name and filing for incorporation, there’s one more big step. If you are planning to accept contributions in exchange for tax breaks (the cornerstone of all charitable giving), you’ll need to file for federal and state tax-exempt status using Form 1023. Again, expert advice is great if you can find it. If not, do enough research to feel comfortable. It’s not as difficult as you think. Once filed, you will soon know if your organization has received tax-exempt status. Next stop, applying for grants! Join Raise The Money for the next installment.