How to Start a Non-profit Organization
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How to Start a Non-profit Organization

Starting a non-profit and turning your ideas into reality can be an exciting venture, but for one to create a non-profit organization, it takes legwork, investment and passion in order to succeed. However, if given proper planning, the rewards of starting a service organization for the community and seeing that passion ignite outweighs all of the dedicated work it took to launch that non-profit. We all have ideas rolling in our mind to make the world a better place, and if those ideas can be built into an organization that provides a service to the community, then read on. Here are the steps for starting a not-for-profit organization:

Identify the mission of your non-profit.

Why are you starting this service organization? If the answer that comes to mind is to make money for yourself, then that's not what starting a non-profit is about. It's about starting and maintaining a charity. Take time to reflect on what service your non-profit intends to give to your community, who who will be helped by the role played by your non-profit and what methods you'll need to use to succeed in its mission. Starting a non-profit almost always needs a mission statement: Write down your thoughts and revise until you have a firm grasp that what you've written down fully and succinctly captures the purpose of your organization. At that point, you'll have some focus for your plan.

Choose a name

Your non-profit will preferably have a name that captures not only its mission, but also its spirit. The challenge is just as much finding the right name that embodies your non-profit as it is a name that is unique to the world. Be as exhaustive as possible in making sure you don't infringe on anyone else's trademark. The first step, quite easily, is to do a search online for the name you are thinking of, and see what appears. After that, search for the name that you intend to give the non-profit you are starting within the federal database of trademarks. It also couldn't hurt to ask your local branch of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations about potential names. The spirit of starting a non-profit and finances of an upstart charity can be crushed if someone calls foul on you or sues for trademark infringement. After you have the name set, double check that you can get a good website name. It may sway your decision.

Decide whether to incorporate or not

After starting your not-for-profit organization, do you want what you've created to extend into the future regardless of your own personal involvement? Do you want it to continue its mission after you have moved on to other business? Did you know that your non-profit can become its own legal entity, capable of owning property and holding its own bank account separate from you or any individual? Incorporating is a viable route to take: if this seems appealing, then after starting a charity, formalize the organization as a not-for-profit corporation by incorporating in the state where it will function.

If you incorporate, most state regulations will require you to take on a set minimum number of board members.

In order to incorporate, you must create articles of incorporation, which legally outline the purpose of your non-profit and the authorities and responsibilities of the board members. A firm mission statement will be required as you incorporate.

After incorporating, you can set up a bank account to service your non-profit that will be its own separate account.Even if you keep your non-profit informal and choose not to incorporate, you can still protect your non-profit's name by getting it trademarked through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Tax exemption

By starting a not-for-profit organization, it can be exempt from the IRS as a 501 or 521 organization. The general rule for what can be considered a tax-exempt non-profit organization is a fairly large umbrella as long as your files are in order. Any non-profit that fits within the rules can file for tax exemption when it comes to federal, state and property taxes.  Filing for federal and property tax exemption is done through the IRS, while state tax exemption is filed through the state. You can research IRS rules pertaining to the tax-exempt status of non-profit organizations and how yours might fit when starting a charity or service organization, but it would be wise to hire a lawyer.

Using a non-profit incubator

Starting a non-profit isn't the easiest task in the world, but there are places that want to reach out and help you called non-profit incubators. Non-profit incubators aim to help you as you start your charity or not-for-profit service organization by finding you resources and tools when you may not be on financially strong enough ground to gather them on your own. Your local chapter of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations is a good place to start looking for a non-profit incubator. The second thing you should consider is looking across the aisle to the people in the non-profit community who hold the same mission as yourself. Are there well-established non-profits whose mission is related somehow to yours?  From preexisting organizations, aspiring non-profits can often gain the support and financial investment to launch. Now that you have the mission and idea set for starting your not-for-profit organization, by reading this article you might have noticed there is a lot of legwork involved. Having an expert to help you through may make for a lot less sleepless nights. That's why you should consider hiring a financial expert if you or other board members are not oriented in this expertise. A lawyer who can help you create your articles of incorporation, review all legal documents and help you file for tax exemption with the IRS also is a great part of the team when starting your non-profit. Financial requirements and documentation for non-profit organizations are not to be taken lightly.

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