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How To Start a Nonprofit Organization

For a good starting point, please review the outlines and audio recording of a program sponsored by the University of Marquette Law School titled, "Forming a Nonprofit: The First Conversation". (These resources are listed under "publications" on this page).

About.com's Nonprofit Charitable Orgs section - This section includes a good discussion of the start-up process.

By-laws form from the 'Lectric Law Library - Sample By-Laws form

Corporate By-laws - Suggestions from the Free Management Library.

Disclosure Laws - Almost all tax-exempt organizations are now required to provide public access in a timely fashion to their most recent three years of federal tax returns and to their original Application for Recognition of Exemption. The Internet Nonprofit Center does a good job of explaining how nonprofits should respond to these kinds of requests. See also, "Behind Closed Doors: A Citizens Guide to Investigating Nonprofit Organizations", by Jean Field (This is on old article now archived on the Wayback Machine web site).

Employer Identification Number - To learn more about how to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS, start here. You can obtain one immediately by using the phone/fax option described on this site.

Establishing a Nonprofit Organization - The Foundation Center provides a tutorial describing 12 tasks you will need to accomplish as part of the process of establishing a nonprofit organization:

Fiscal Agent/sponsor - Some loosely held community organizations choose to find an existing fiscal agent/spnsor as an interim step to forming a nonprofit corporation or to manage funds while they are incorporating or waiting for a determination from the IRS. The following resources might be of interest to those considering this option:

Form 1023 Help - Based on a free class taught in Seattle, Washington, since 1995, and is designed to help new non-profit organizations complete IRS Form 1023, the Application for Exempt Status Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

How To Start A Nonprofit Organization- This Action Without Borders FAQ site is a great starting point for individuals considering the start-up of a nonprofit organization.

How To Start a Nonprofit in Wisconsin- Details legal steps involved for a successful nonprofit incorporation.

How to Start a Nonprofit: Sample Bylaws - An excellent sample document for would-be nonprofits, by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

Hurwit & Associates - This legal firm specializes in legal assistance for philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. The site includes a number of free legal articles and resources (See link titled: "Starting Up: Nonprofit & Foundation Basics").

Information for Tax-Exempt Organizations - FAQ's, forms, articles and information for tax exempt organizations maintained by the IRS.

Information about Bylaws for Nonprofit Organizations - The Foundation Center posts some outstanding information on the creation of bylaws including some links to samples.

IRS Publication 557 - Describes the tax exempt status process for nonprofit organizations.

IRS Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501 (a)/Form 1024 - For organizations described in sections:
501(c)(2), (4), (5), (6), (7),(8), (9), (10), (12), (13),(15), (17), (19), and (25) of the Internal Revenue Code. If you complete and submit this form, you also need to complete and attach Form 8718 which determines your application fee.

IRS Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501 (3)/Form 1023 & Form 1023 Instructions- For charitable organizations described in Section 501(c)(3). If you complete and submit this form, you also need to complete and attach Form 8718 which determines your application fee. See also: Form 1023 Help - Based on a free class taught in Seattle, Washington, since 1995, and is designed to help new non-profit organizations complete IRS Form 1023, the Application for Exempt Status Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. See also, Public Charity - IRS Processing of Exemption Applications (This page describes what organizations should do in terms of tax return filings while the organization is waiting for a determination on status from the IRS) & Filing Requirements. Organizations wishing for a determination for something other then charitable 501(c)(3) status should complete a form 1024.

Labyrinth Inc.- If you are going to solicit funds you will likely have to register in each state in which you intend to solicit funds. This useful site directs you to the registration contacts for each state. This web site also contains a list of the public disclosure statements which must appear on all solicitation materials.

Legal Resources for Nonprofits - This web site maintained by the National Economic Development and Law Center has numerous sample operating agreements, fiscal sponsorship agreements, agendas, minutes, descriptions of board duties, etc.  (Most of these documents relate to California, but there are a number of useful templates that could be modified for use in other states).

M-Link - The Milwaukee Legal initiative for Nonrpfoti Corporations at Marquette University offers free legal assistance to Wisconsin nonprofits.  M-LINC is a group of legal professionals, students, and volunteers that are committed to serving local nonprofits through a legal referral service, free educational programs and an annual comprehensive strategic analysis of a chosen nonprofit. M-LINC coordinates free legal advice for (501(c)(3) nonprofits with legal questions in the following areas:  real estate, intellectual property, bankruptcy, employment, corporate, tax, and federal and state registration requirements. These services are provided through the help of volunteer lawyers, law students and other legal professionals.

Online Compendium of Federal and State Regulations for U.S. Nonprofit Organizations - This Web site provides a central resource for nonprofit organization (NPO) administrators, regulators and the interested public to find information about the laws and regulations controlling NPOs in the U.S.

Personnel Policies, Handbooks and Records - A list of valuable links maintained by Dr. Carter McNamara, MAP, St. Paul MN.

Sample Articles of Incorporation:

Prepare Your Own 501(c)(3) Application: An e-book for lay people by Sandy Deja.

Secretary of State Internet Web Pages - A list of links by state for the Secretary of State (Maintained by the National Association of Secretaries of State). This is the office where you would typically file Articles of Incorporation for a nonprofit organization. Starting A Nonprofit Organization - Consider starting here where Dr. Carter McNamara, MAP, St. Paul MN, maintains a list of links and a logical progression of thoughts that need to be considered when starting a new organization.Starting a Non-Profit Organization: A Resource List - This MSU web page identifies organizations and book resources that can assist in starting a nonprofit organization.Tax-Exempt Organization Reference Chart - This table includes almost every type of organization that qualifies for some form of federal tax-exemption and is derived from IRS publication 557.Unified Registration Statement - All but 10 states in the U.S. regulate charitable fundraising. State laws require charities to register and to provide information about fundraising activities s to the government. The national Association of Attorneys General and the National Charities Officials have developed the Unified Registration Statement (URS). The purpose of the URS is to provide a standardized reporting form for many different states.

What You Need to Know if Your Organization Plans to Apply for Tax Exemption - Information provided to you by the IRS.

WISBAR Nonprofit Business Assistance Program - Small and emerging nonprofit organizations throughout Wisconsin can receive up to two hours of counseling from a business lawyer at no cost. This service is provided by members of the Business Law Section of the State Bar of Wisconsin. This link takes you to the on-line application requesting assistance. Questions? Contact the State Bar Nonprofit Business Assistance Program Coordinator (BAP@wisbar.org) or call at (800) 444-9404 x6006. The State Bar of Wisconsin also publishes the Guide for Wisconsin Nonprofit Organizations, a handbook for attorneys, board members, administrators, and other professionals who manage or advise nonprofit organizations.

The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions - Nonprofit Organizations in Wisconsin can now go to the Web for corporate forms (Requires you to have the free Adobe Acrobat reader): Articles of Incorporation, Articles of Amendment, Restated Articles of Incorporation, and Articles of Dissolution Appointment of Agent to Receive Service of Process (Unincorporated Nonprofit Association). In similar pdf form, you can also find the Application for Wisconsin Sales and Use Tax Certificate of Exempt Status (CES) on the Wisconsin Department of Revenue web page.  Wisconsin.gov - The State of Wisconsin Internet Portal contains a link to Build Your Business a collection of information specifically designed to aid new business organizers.

Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing - Charitable organizations soliciting contributions in the state of Wisconsin must be registered with the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing. This requires an annual financial report to be filed annually. This link takes you to a page with the list of forms pertaining to this issue.

Wisconsin Institute of Certified Public Accountants Volunteer Assistance Program - While a similar professional association likely exists in most states, The WICPA has an outstanding volunteer assistance program for nonprofit organizations. The Volunteer Assistance Program is brought to you by the WICPA's Public Service Committee, which exists to promote community service within its membership. It is based on the belief that CPAs can and should share their expertise with those who need assistance and may have difficulty obtaining it. Wisconsin Statutes, Chapter 181 - This chapter of the Wisconsin Statutes covers statutes and rules pertaining to nonstock corporations in the state.

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