How to Incorporate a Charity

by Jeff Franco J.D./M.A./M.B.A.

If you operate a charity and want to incorporate it, the process in most states is similar to incorporating a for-profit organization. As a charity, however, states will require more extensive information on the incorporation documents about the organization’s charitable or nonprofit mission. When incorporation is complete, you should also consider applying for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service.

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Step 1

Choose a unique name for the charitable corporation. All states require that your incorporation documents include a name for the charity that’s not the same or significantly similar to a name already used by another corporation. Regardless of what you decide to call the charity, the name must clearly indicate that it’s a corporation by including terms such as “Corp.” or “Inc.”

Step 2

Draft a brief statement that summarizes the corporation’s charitable activities. When you fill out your state’s nonprofit incorporation document, you will need to provide sufficient information that explains how the organization satisfies the state’s requirements for classification as a nonprofit corporation.

Step 3

Choose at least three individuals who will serve on the board of directors. Unlike for-profit corporate formations, states commonly require that you include the initial directors’ names even if you anticipate electing new directors in the near future.

Step 4

Select a registered agent or address to receive service of process. Some states allow you to use the charity’s principal business location as the address where legal documents can be served. If the charity’s main operations are conducted in a different state, you may need to designate a third-party registered agent that can receive legal documents on behalf of the organization. And in New York, for example, the state requires charitable corporations to designate the New York secretary of state as the registered agent.

Step 5

File the incorporation documents with the secretary of state’s office or its equivalent in your state. Despite the fact you are incorporating a nonprofit charity; most states still require the payment of a fee to incorporate. You can file your incorporation documents in person, by mail and in some cases, by fax.