How to Start a Non-profit

I started my day out with one very important question: How does one start a nonprofit?

I’ve worked for a variety of nonprofits over the years & my left leaning politics have often favored employment searches on rather than But despite my years of working between the walls of non-profits, I had never acquired any knowledge in reference to what steps are necessary for a group of well meaning folks to establish nonprofit status.

Here’s the deal–there are many different kinds of nonprofits. If you want to incorporate your nonprofit you need to:

1) Establish your organization by filing articles of incorporation with appropriate agencies of your state (usually the secretary of state).

2) Create a Board of Directors.

3) Secure federal income tax exemption by filing the appropriate forms with the IRS. The IRS has a FAQ about applying for tax-exemption.

This step would benefit greatly from some legal assistance! You can search for a pro bono or reduced-cost legal services that specialize in assisting new & emerging non-profits. Some pro bono organizations that Matroyshka’s Garden might want to check out are:

Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts-offers volunteer legal services to arts organizations and individual artists nationwide.

Corporate Pro Bono-allows us to create a listing for our nonprofit which can then be searched & viewed by lawyers who are looking for volunteer opportunities.

Lawyers Alliance for New York-offers free legal assistance to qualified nonprofit organizations in New York City.

4) In order for to procure & file the appropriate forms you might want to contact your state’s charity registration office (in New York that would be: Secretary of State information for Charitable Organizations). This would be important if you wanted to file for tax-deductible status (aka for donations to be tax deductible). Legal assistance is suggested with this as well.

5) It usually takes 4-6 months to go through the process of becoming a non-profit.

I also stumbled upon a free basic training course offered through the Foundation Center, which I will be attending on Monday, January 28th. This course is offered in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Cleveland & Washington DC (registration is required): Before You Seek a Grant: A Checklist for New Nonprofits

Something that has become abundantly clear is that a mission statement is definitely needed. If you intend to go forward with seeking nonprofit status (or even if you don’t!), having a clear & concise document which encompasses your hopes & goals for your organization. This will also give you a reference point for future problems or conflicts. At this leg of the journey, your mission statement should be short & to the point–basically you want to outline why your nonprofit should exist.

As if this entry didn’t look all link-happy enough, here are some links that were helpful to me:

The Foundation Center FAQ

5 Tips & A Warning

Where to Start When Creating a Nonprofit

Starting a Nonprofit Organization

On the drawing board– What exactly is a Board of Directors: Who, What, Where & Why?

Happy nonprofiting!