Define a Mission Statement and a Purpose
- At this point in your planning you know what your general goal is for your non-profit, but now you need to put it in writing in a way that is clear, concise, and answers the question about why you started the non-profit. Take care in constructing your mission statement, as it will serve as guidance to everyone who chooses to work with you in the future. The statement should be no more than a few sentences. After you have firmed up your mission statement, you can begin working on a draft of your purpose. Your purpose outlines the more specific tasks that your non-profit will be engaged in. While the mission statement responds to the “why” question, the purpose responds to the “how”.
Recruit a Board of Directors
- Your board serves an important purpose both legally and as a guide to keeping the non-profit’s activities in line with the mission. Most importantly, your board must share your passion for the mission. Ideally, your board includes people who are energetic and well-connected in their communities, and together represent a diverse palate of resources and opinions. All of your board members must understand the importance of fundraising to furthering the non-profit’s mission and be willing to pitch in to the fundraising effort. The number of directors on the board is up to you, as long as it meets the minimum mandated by your state. For your initial board, it is not necessary to follow a specific process while recruiting- you may only be able to get volunteers at this point. Make sure your board understands their duties, length of term, and expected time commitment.
Choose a Name and Register With the State
- Your state’s Secretary of State web page will provide the necessary information and forms to move forward in the process of choosing and registering a name. You can often search in a database of registered names to ensure your name isn’t already in use. Pay special attention to the rules on renewing the name- you don’t want someone else to pick it up because your paperwork is late!
Once you have decided to incorporate your non-profit, your next task is to prepare to file with the state government to attain official non-profit corporation status.
The first stage of your preparations includes articulating your purpose as an organization and drafting a mission statement. You also need to recruit a board of directors. Whether you have your new board work together on articulating the purpose/mission statement or you recruit your board based on your pre-drafted purpose/mission statement will vary. You also need to select a name for your non-profit and register it with the state you are filing in.
Once you have those steps completed, the second stage of incorporation is submitting your completed Articles of Incorporation to your state’s Secretary of State. Most states host a website for their Secretary that include PDF forms, samples and instructions. You also must draft your organization’s corporate bylaws. While bylaws are not necessary, they are an important part of obtaining 501(c)(3) status with the IRS. All non-profits must also obtain a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) to establish a business tax account with the IRS. For those non-profits who qualify for federal tax exemption as a 501(c)(3) organization, additional paperwork is necessary for representation by an agent under power of attorney or to elect to be permitted to make limited expenditures to influence legislation. In addition to the IRS paperwork, you must register within your state for permission to solicit funds for your organization.
After the initial paperwork has been submitted to both the state and the IRS, you must plan to make an annual filing with the IRS for your taxes and with the state for your financial reports. You must review your state’s ethics and accountability laws to ensure you are in compliance. California’s Nonprofit Integrity Act is available here. No other state legislature has yet passed similar legislation, but you can learn more about IRS Form 990 as well as look up your state’s specific codes on the National Council of Nonprofits Ethics and Accountability page.
You can also apply for a bulk mail permit at your local post office for a discount on your outgoing mail expenses. Please see the following blog posts for more details on the aforementioned steps.