When considering starting a nonprofit organization, most people think they just need to fill out a bit of paperwork with the state and that’s it. There is a lot more to it than that. Long before filing for nonprofit status, an organization needs to have all its internal structuring and paperwork mapped out, since those are critical pieces to the application itself. A skilled business lawyer can bring you through every step of the process.
Determining Your Mission and Scope
Although it might seem obvious, the first step is to determine the mission of your organization. Will you be helping provide a product or service to a specific group in need, such as clothing, food, shelter, comfort, training, knowledge, or medical care? Or raising funds for a research endowment? Whatever your organization’s goal, it is important to have it clearly articulated. Be sure to really hone in on the part of your mission you are most passionate about, as that may very well be what sets you apart from other organizations and ultimately contributes to your longevity.
The next step is to determine how large or small the scope of your organization’s work will be. This determination will depend largely on your organization’s goals, and in many cases, the scope is self-evident. For example, starting a nonprofit to serve food to a community in a food dessert is much smaller in scope than operating a food distribution service to provide food for people in areas affected by natural disasters throughout the world. The important first step is for your organization to have a clear grasp of the scope of your mission.
Establishing Your Structures
This is where things become a bit more complicated. Before filing for your tax-exempt status, you need to have in place:
- Board of directors: New York requires a minimum number of three directors for a nonprofit. All directors have to be at least 18 years old.
- Bylaws and business plans: Part of the submission for nonprofit status will require the organization’s bylaws, structures and other relevant documentation.
- Tax and financial forms: You must obtain an employee identification number and submit tax forms.
- Fundraising plans: The state and the IRS will need to see your plans for how you raise funds and what methods you plan to use to bring in the income needed for your operation to pursue its goals.
There is often more documentation that is needed, depending on the nature of the organization and other factors. All of this is the preparatory work that needs to be done before you file for your status. A seasoned attorney can help you navigate through this process quickly.
Filing For Tax-Exempt Status
Now it is time to file for nonprofit status. For the most part, the heavy work is already done by this point since you have compiled and organized the needed materials and information. Now the work involves compiling this information and presenting it appropriately in your request for nonprofit status. Then there may be further information needed by the agencies in charge, or continued communication to present your case.
Overcoming the Challenges
Although there is a lot of paperwork and detailed work involved with obtaining nonprofit status, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. An experienced attorney can walk you through the process, help you gather and organize your documentation, help with responding to agencies for further clarification or documentation and put you in the best position to succeed.
The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.
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