How to Start a Nonprofit in 2024: Ultimate Checklist

People can start out very motivated to change the world and then run into the wall of work it takes to create a nonprofit. Before embarking on this journey, it is HIGHLY recommended that people really explore the great nonprofits that already exist on networks like:

The organization you are looking to start may even be hiring! Another option is to use a fiscal sponsorship to quickly stand up your nonprofit with a tax-dectuble entity that is already in operation. These groups will charge around 15% of funds raised traditionally – National Network of Fiscal Sponsors

If you are still reading and haven’t been turned off yet, here is a very thorough list of what you need as well as considerations.

10 Steps to Start a Nonprofit

Assuming you have the money ready to invest in creating a nonprofit, usually around $2k to $5k.
Here are the steps needed:

  1. Determine the focus of your nonprofit: Before starting a nonprofit, you need to identify the focus or mission of your organization. Determine what type of need your nonprofit will address and what population it will serve.
  2. Choose a name for your nonprofit: Choose a name that reflects the mission and focus of your nonprofit. Make sure that the name is not already taken or trademarked by another organization.
  3. Create a board of directors: You will need to establish a board of directors who will guide the direction and governance of your nonprofit. Consider recruiting individuals with different skills and expertise to serve on your board.
  4. Draft your nonprofit’s bylaws: Your bylaws will establish the rules and procedures for how your nonprofit will operate. The bylaws should address governance, membership, meetings, and other important areas of operation.
  5. Incorporate your nonprofit: Incorporating your nonprofit will provide it with legal status as a separate entity. You will need to file articles of incorporation with your state’s Secretary of State or similar agency.
  6. Apply for tax-exempt status: To be recognized as a nonprofit organization by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you will need to apply for tax-exempt status. This will require filing Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ with the IRS, along with a fee.
  7. Register for state and local taxes: Your nonprofit may be required to register for state and local taxes, such as sales tax or payroll taxes. Check with your state and local government agencies to determine what taxes you may be required to pay.
  8. Obtain necessary permits and licenses: Depending on the type of services or activities your nonprofit will engage in, you may need to obtain permits or licenses from state or local agencies.
  9. Develop a fundraising plan: Nonprofits rely on donations and other sources of funding to support their operations. Develop a fundraising plan that outlines how your organization will generate revenue. Here is a helpful digital fundraising guide and a trusted list of nonprofit fundraising consultants.
  10. Start operating and promoting your nonprofit: Once you have completed the steps above, you can begin operating and promoting your nonprofit. Develop a marketing plan to raise awareness of your organization and its mission, and begin carrying out programs and services that support your mission.

What are the costs of creating a nonprofit?

The cost of creating a nonprofit organization can vary depending on several factors, such as the state where the nonprofit will be incorporated, the legal services needed, and the filing fees required by the state and federal government. However, here are some general expenses to consider when creating a nonprofit:

  1. Incorporation Fees: To create a nonprofit, you will need to incorporate it with the state. The cost of incorporation can vary by state, but typically ranges from $50 to $500.
  2. Legal Fees: It is highly recommended to work with an attorney to ensure that your nonprofit is properly established and in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations. Legal fees can vary, but you can expect to pay between $500 and $2,000 for the initial work.
  3. IRS Filing Fees: To apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS, you will need to file Form 1023 or 1023-EZ, and pay a filing fee. The cost of this filing fee is based on the annual gross receipts of your organization, and ranges from $275 to $600.
  4. State Filing Fees: Some states may require additional filings and fees beyond the initial incorporation filing. These fees can range from $0 to a few hundred dollars.
  5. Other Costs: Other costs to consider may include hiring an accountant or bookkeeper, purchasing insurance, and any costs associated with hiring staff or volunteers.

Overall, the cost of creating a nonprofit can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars depending on the specific needs and circumstances of the organization. It’s important to carefully consider all expenses and develop a budget before starting the process of creating a nonprofit.

What are the basics of creating a Board of Directors?

Creating and managing a board of directors is a critical component of running a nonprofit organization. Get help from board development experts.

Here are some basics of creating and managing a board of directors:

  1. Recruitment: One of the first steps in creating a board of directors is to recruit board members. It’s important to look for individuals who are passionate about the mission of the organization and have skills and experience that can help the nonprofit achieve its goals.
  2. Orientation: Once board members are recruited, they should be provided with an orientation to the nonprofit organization. This orientation should include an overview of the organization’s mission, history, programs, and strategic plan, as well as the roles and responsibilities of board members.
  3. Board meetings: Boards of directors typically meet regularly, often on a monthly or quarterly basis. Board meetings should be well-planned and productive, with a clear agenda and goals. Board members should be given adequate time to prepare for meetings and should be encouraged to ask questions and provide input.
  4. Committees: Boards of directors often create committees to focus on specific areas of the nonprofit’s work, such as fundraising, finance, or marketing. Committee members should be appointed by the board and should work to achieve the goals set out by the board.
  5. Evaluation: It’s important to periodically evaluate the performance of the board of directors as a whole and of individual board members. This evaluation can help identify areas where the board can improve and can also help ensure that board members are meeting their responsibilities.
  6. Term limits: To ensure that the board of directors remains fresh and engaged, many nonprofits establish term limits for board members. This allows for new ideas and perspectives to be brought to the board and can also help prevent burnout among board members.
  7. Communication: Clear and open communication is critical to the success of a board of directors. Board members should be kept informed of important developments within the nonprofit and should also be encouraged to provide feedback and suggestions.

By following these basics of creating and managing a board of directors, nonprofits can establish a strong and effective leadership structure that can help them achieve their goals and make a positive impact on their communities.

List of the documents you need to create a nonprofit

Sure, you wanted to start a nonprofit to improve the world, not chop down a forest for paperwork… The truth is there a lot of details that need to covered in these documents that can’t be skipped. Here is a list of the documents that are typically needed to start a nonprofit organization, along with a brief explanation of why they are important:

  1. Articles of Incorporation: This is a legal document that establishes the nonprofit as a corporation in the state where it is located. It includes information such as the organization’s name, purpose, board structure, and registered agent.
  2. Bylaws: This document outlines the rules and procedures that the organization will follow, including how the board is elected, how meetings are conducted, and how decisions are made.
  3. Employer Identification Number (EIN): This is a unique number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to identify the nonprofit for tax purposes.
  4. State and federal tax exemption applications: Nonprofits must apply for exemption from state and federal taxes, which requires submitting detailed applications to the appropriate agencies.
  5. Annual reports and filings: Nonprofits are required to file annual reports and other documents with the state and federal government to maintain their legal status and tax-exempt status.
  6. Conflict of Interest Policy: This is a policy that outlines how the organization will handle conflicts of interest among board members, staff, and volunteers.
  7. Financial policies and procedures: Nonprofits should establish policies and procedures for financial management, including budgeting, accounting, and reporting.
  8. Fundraising and solicitation registrations: Nonprofits may need to register with the state or other agencies to legally solicit funds from the public.
  9. Insurance policies: Nonprofits should consider obtaining various types of insurance, including general liability, property, and directors and officers liability insurance, to protect the organization from potential risks.

These documents are essential for starting a nonprofit and establishing its legal and financial structure. It’s important to consult with legal and financial professionals to ensure that all necessary documents are prepared correctly and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

What are the Pros and Cons of Starting a Nonprofit?

Starting a nonprofit can have many benefits, but there are also some challenges and potential drawbacks to consider. Here are some of the key pros and cons of starting a nonprofit:


  1. Mission-driven: Nonprofits are driven by a social or public mission, which can be highly motivating and inspiring for founders, staff, and volunteers.
  2. Tax-exempt status: Nonprofits can be exempt from federal and state income taxes, as well as some other taxes, which can help them save money and allocate more resources to their programs and services.
  3. Access to grants and funding: Nonprofits can apply for grants from government agencies, private foundations, and other organizations that provide funding for social and public causes.
  4. Public trust: Nonprofits are often viewed as trustworthy and credible organizations by the public, which can help them build a strong reputation and attract supporters.
  5. Limited liability: Nonprofit directors and officers are often protected from personal liability for the actions of the organization, which can provide some legal protection.


  1. Administrative burdens: Starting a nonprofit involves significant administrative work, including filing paperwork with the government, developing bylaws and policies, and complying with reporting and compliance requirements.
  2. Limited control: Nonprofit founders often have limited control over the organization, as decisions are made by the board of directors and members.
  3. Limited financial rewards: Nonprofits are not designed to generate profits, and founders and staff may not receive high salaries or financial benefits.
  4. Competitive fundraising environment: Nonprofits must compete with other organizations for funding, which can be challenging in a crowded and competitive fundraising environment.
  5. Risk of mission drift: Nonprofits may face pressure to shift their focus or mission over time, which can create tension and conflict among stakeholders.

Overall, starting a nonprofit can be a rewarding and impactful way to address social and public issues, but it also requires significant commitment, time, and effort.

Is it smarter to create a for-benefit LLC rather than a nonprofit?

Here is a quick comparison of creating an LLC vs a nonprofit. There are some real advantages of an LLC to consider.

  1. Flexibility: For-benefit LLCs offer greater flexibility in terms of management and operations than nonprofits. LLCs can operate like traditional for-profit businesses, while also incorporating social or environmental goals into their operations. This allows for-benefit LLCs to be more adaptable to changes in the market or external environment, and to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
  2. Sustainability: For-benefit LLCs are generally more sustainable in the long term than nonprofits, as they can generate revenue and reinvest profits into their operations. Nonprofits, on the other hand, rely heavily on charitable donations and grants, which can be unpredictable and subject to fluctuations in the economy or donor priorities.
  3. Tax implications: For-benefit LLCs are typically taxed as regular for-profit businesses, while nonprofits are tax-exempt. This means that for-benefit LLCs may be subject to higher tax rates, but they also have more flexibility in terms of their operations and can take advantage of tax deductions for business expenses.
  4. Legal requirements: Nonprofits are subject to specific legal requirements in terms of governance, reporting, and compliance. For-benefit LLCs, on the other hand, are subject to fewer legal requirements and regulations. This can make it easier for for-benefit LLCs to operate and scale their operations, particularly if they are operating across state or national borders.
  5. Branding: For-benefit LLCs can use branding and marketing strategies that are typically associated with for-profit businesses, which can help to attract customers and investors. Nonprofits, on the other hand, may face challenges in terms of branding and marketing, as they are often associated with charity or philanthropy rather than business or innovation.

Overall, creating a for-benefit LLC may be a smarter choice for individuals or organizations that are looking to create a sustainable, adaptable, and socially responsible business. While nonprofits offer certain advantages in terms of tax-exemption and philanthropic support, for-benefit LLCs can provide greater flexibility, sustainability, and branding opportunities.

LLC (For-profit)


  • Flexibility in terms of management and operations
  • Ability to generate revenue and reinvest profits
  • No specific legal requirements or regulations to adhere to
  • Can take advantage of tax deductions for business expenses
  • Branded as a for-profit entity, which can be appealing to customers and investors


  • Subject to higher tax rates compared to nonprofit organizations
  • No tax-exempt status
  • Risk of potential conflicts of interest due to profit-seeking motives
  • May face challenges in attracting socially conscious investors and customers
  • No eligibility for grants or other types of philanthropic funding

Overall, the decision to create an LLC or nonprofit depends on the goals and objectives of the individual or organization. LLCs offer greater flexibility, revenue generation, and branding opportunities, but come with the trade-offs of higher taxes and lack of philanthropic funding. Nonprofits, on the other hand, offer tax-exempt status, access to philanthropic funding, and a well-established legal framework, but can be more bureaucratic and less flexible in terms of operations.

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