Starting a Nonprofit

Becoming a legal nonprofit involves a lot of paperwork. Included here are the five main documents you’ll need. Start with the Articles of Incorporation, then get an EIN. The 1023 requires proof of both.


articles of incorporation

The Articles of Incorporation are used to register your organization with the North Carolina Secretary of State. It is a simple two-page form available on the Secretary of State’s website. The filing fee is $60.

If you intend to apply for IRS federal tax exemption as a charitable organization, your articles of incorporation must contain a required purpose clause and a dissolution of assets provision. Samples of these provisions can be found on the same page of the Secretary of State’s website on the form called Tax Exempt Status Information.

form 1023 (application for recognition of exemption)

Form 1023 is what you use to apply to be a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization and gain all the benefits of that status with the federal government. As with many IRS forms, there is a three-page “EZ” version of the form and a 28-page standard version of the form. The filing fee is $225. The processing time for the “EZ” form is about 3 months, for the standard form 6-9 months.

A complete checklist to see if you qualify for the “EZ” form and information on how to access it through are available in the Instructions for that form Instructions and an interactive version of the longer form, which walks you through each question, are available on the IRS website.

charitable solicitation license

A charitable solicitation license allows you ask for donations from people in North Carolina. It is issued by the Secretary of State through on online form. You will need to set up an account to access the form. If you are a new organization, you will need to provide a budget. The form must be printed out, notarized, and mailed in. There is no filing fee, and the processing time is approximately 10 day.

ein (tax id number)

An Employer ID Number is also sometimes called a Federal Tax ID Number. It is issued by the IRS for free and takes minutes to apply for and receive online. You will need a personal Social Security Number to apply, and you must have an EIN in order to apply for tax-exempt status on form 1023.


Bylaws are an organization’s internal operating rules that generally include things like how many board members the organization will have, how often they will meet, and roles and responsibilities. They do not need to be filed with any agency, and there is no specific legal language that should be included. The North Carolina Center for Nonprofits has a toolkit on starting a nonprofit that includes sample bylaws.