The Requirements to Start a Non-Profit Business in South Carolina

By Heather Frances J.D.

Nonprofit businesses provide important services for communities, such as giving support to low-income families or raising awareness of important social issues. While you can do these things as an individual, organizing as a nonprofit allows others to help you operate your charity and encourages donations more effectively. Typically, South Carolina nonprofits are organized as nonprofit corporations.

Initial Steps

Select a name for your organization before you file paperwork to incorporate it. Your name cannot be the same, or very similar to, that of another registered nonprofit, since South Carolina requires each corporate name to be distinguishable from other corporate names. The Secretary of State's website provides a search field for you to look up corporate filings to determine whether your proposed nonprofit name is already in use. You also must decide on the type of nonprofit you want your organization to be: public benefit corporation, religious corporation or a mutual benefit corporation. For example, a church would likely file as a religious corporation.

Articles of Incorporation

To form a nonprofit corporation, you must file articles of incorporation with the South Carolina Secretary of State; these forms are available on the Secretary of State’s website. The articles contain basic information about your nonprofit, including its name, the name of the nonprofit’s registered agent, the organization's main office address and a plan to distribute its assets should the nonprofit dissolve. The registered agent and all incorporators must sign all of the articles. You must submit the articles of incorporation in duplicate by mail or in person to the Secretary of State, along with filing fees and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

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Organizational Meeting

After you file the articles of incorporation, South Carolina law requires your nonprofit’s initial directors to call an organizational meeting to appoint officers, adopt bylaws to govern operations and carry on other initial business. If your articles do not name initial directors, the nonprofit’s incorporators still must hold this meeting to elect directors and officers. The incorporators can then adopt bylaws and complete the nonprofit’s organization, or they can allow the newly elected directors to complete the organization.


Your nonprofit’s bylaws establish the basic rules for managing operations. Typically, bylaws address the roles of directors, members and officers, including their required qualifications, powers and duties. Bylaws also contain provisions regarding how vacancies should be filled and how officers and directors should vote. Bylaws can establish committees to operate within the nonprofit, address how bank accounts should be established and describe dissolution procedures should the nonprofit cease to operate. Under South Carolina law, the rules that govern your nonprofit’s structure are considered bylaws even if you call them something else.

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