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What's Required to Start a Non-Profit in DC?

1. Do your research. Starting a non-profit is just like starting a business. There are questions you need to ask yourself before you get rolling. Ask yourself:

-Am I fulfilling an unmet


-Is there any competition or are there any other organizations already doing what I want to do?

-Who will I target? What sort of people will want to contribute or join? 

2. Craft a mission statement. The key to writing a good mission statement is explaining what you do, who it affects, and why you exist. Keep it clear and concise. Don’t stuff it with words. Sometimes you only need a few words to get your point across. Ex: Wounded Warrior Project’s mission is “to honor and empower wounded warriors.” It is simple, and yet clearly explains what they do and why they exist. 

3. Choose a name.There might be rules that vary state by state about naming a non-profit, so make sure that you check those rules and while you’re at it, check to see if the domain name is available. For choosing a name, it’s helpful to follow the rules of the mission statement. Base it on what you will do, how you plan on helping and filling a need, and who you plan on working with. Ex: Doctors without Borders

4. Choose a legal structure. You must choose whether your organization will be a trust, corporation, LLC, or association before you can apply for exempt status. Traditionally, most non-profits structure as non-profit corporations. There is no official filing you need to do for choosing your legal structure.

5. Choose and appoint a board of directors. Typically, only three people are needed. It is important that you choose people who are passionate about your organization and its mission, but passion can only go so far. You should choose people who are passionate, but who can bring different expertise, skills, and resources to the table.

6. Appoint a registered agent. This is the person responsible for receiving legal notices on behalf of the organization. Appoint an incorporator. They will be responsible for signing the articles of incorporation, explained further below.

7. Create your bylaws. You should probably do this with your Board of Directors to get input. Your bylaws will be the operating manual for running your non-profit. You need this in order to file your Articles of Incorporation and apply for tax-exempt status. Bylaws typically include the rules and procedures for holding meetings, your purpose, defining membership, your board of directors and officers, and more. For an example, check out Maryland’s Sample Bylaws for Non-Profits here.

8. Prepare and File Articles of Incorporation. To file, you will need your purpose of your organization, the names of your initial directors, the name of the incorporator, and more. Fill out DC's Form DNP-1.

9. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Fill out IRS Form SS-4.

10. Apply for federal tax exempt status. Fill out IRS Form 1023. See instructions here.

11. File FR 500, New Business Registration. Find the form on this page. You file through the DC portal.

12. File FR 164, Application for Exemption from Income and Franchise Tax, Sales and Use Tax, or Personal Property Tax. Find the form here.

13. Register for Charitable Solicitation in each state you will fundraise in. For DC, you must file for a Basic Business License here.


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