How to Start a Charity

How do I start a nonprofit organization?

Before forming a nonprofit, your first step is to find out if organizations (nonprofit, for-profit, or government) are already doing the same or similar work in your community. It will be harder to get support if you are just duplicating existing services, versus improving or adding to them. Resources that can help you identify nonprofits in your area include:

  • GuideStar
  • 211 call centers, available in many areas; some also provide searchable databases of local human/social service organizations
  • Search the Internet for your area, plus keywords describing your mission, e.g., “women children shelter atlanta”

After you determine that the work you will do will meet a real need in the community, you must spend some time developing these essential ingredients of a successful nonprofit: :

  • a vital mission
  • high-quality, responsive, and unduplicated programs and services
  • reliable and diverse revenue streams
  • clear lines of accountability
  • adequate facilities

Starting a nonprofit generally also requires these steps to formalize your organization: 

  1. File articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State or other appropriate state agency. Find your state government’s website >>
  2. Apply for exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Please note that it can take 3-12 months for the IRS to return its decision. Get the IRS’s application instructions >>
  3. Register with the state(s) where you plan to do fundraising activities. Find your state’s charity registration office >>

Please note that laws and procedures can vary in each state. Use the Nonprofit Startup Resources by State map to view state-by-state nonprofit startup resources such as startup guides, nonprofit associations, legal support organizations, technical assistance, state filing agencies and more! Use the map >>

Have a question about this topic? Ask us!The Foundation Center’s Ask Us service is available 24/7 to answer your questions related to starting a nonprofit, finding grants, or other fundraising and management queries. Ask Us Now! >>

Alternatives to starting your own nonprofit: 

  • Volunteer or work for an existing nonprofit that shares your mission.
  • Find a nonprofit with a similar mission that will act as your fiscal sponsor. This arrangement may help you become eligible for more funding opportunities without obtaining your own exempt status. Learn more about fiscal sponsorship now >>
  • Investigate the concept of social enterprise, which may take the form of a low-profit limited liability (L3C) company or a B-corporation. Learn more about social enterprise now >>

Learn more now about starting a nonprofit with our free recorded webinars or tutorials:

Selected resources below may also be helpful.

Books & Articles

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SOURCE: Grant Space

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