10 Steps for becoming a 501(c)(3) non-profit — the EZ way
In 2016, my main goal was to make INTech Foundation, Inc. (INTech Camp for Girls) a 501(c)(3) non-profit organziation. While the lack of having the designation didn’t hold us back too much, I knew it was pertinent for our organization to grow.
Below are the steps I took to make this happen in August 2016 and under those steps is a bit more about my journey.
Note: In 2014, the IRS rolled out a new streamlined way for organizations to apply for 501(c)(3) status. You can read more about it here. My steps outline the process for using the Form 1023-EZ.
10 Steps for becoming a 501(c)(3) non-profit using the FORM 1023-EZ
- Assuming you already have an organization name and vision together, recruit a formal group of people to serve on your Board of Directors
- Create bylaws for your organization
- Establish your organization as a non-profit in your state via the Secretary of State in the location you want to incorporate in (there will be a cost for this and there may be extra steps, depending on your State…I incorporated in North Carolina for $60)
- Once you’ve received the official notice from your Secretary of State that you are now a registered non-profit, download your Articles of Incorporation — you’ll need to submit this to the IRS
- Read through the Instructions for Form 1023-EZ — Jump to Page 11 for the Form 1023-EZ Eligibility Worksheet and if you answer “No” to all of the questions, keep following my steps. If you answer “Yes” to anything, sadly I can’t help since that is not the process I took (you’re likely eligible, though)
- Start filling out a draft of the Form 1023-EZ
- Have a lawyer review the form + your bylaws + your Articles of Incorporation. Also, review everything with your Board since their information will be included on the Form 1023-EZ
- Once you’re ready to submit, start filling out your Form 1023-EZ on the Pay.gov website. Preview the document to triple check that everything is good to go (you can also save it for later if you need to)
- Pay the fee ($275)
- Wait patiently! Be sure to check the mailbox that you submitted on your document as the IRS will not update Pay.gov, nor will they e-mail you. You will receive your designation letter in the mail.
Starting an organization is HARD WORK!
Sometimes, to keep myself motivated, I’ll say “if it were easy, everyone would be doing it” and just keep on grinding. I have a ton of other things that help me keep grinding, but that’s for another post.
The story of INTech starts with an NCWIT grant application. Me being me, I wanted a name that meant something and branding that was legit. So, I took a month to figure out a name and once that was done, I asked my classmate Reggie to do my branding for me (he actually might have offered because he’s just that awesome). At this point, the camp was already in full planning mode, I just needed the rest of the package to be complete.
With that being said, my steps assume that you’ve already done the leg work of establishing an organization name and the branding that goes with that. (You technically don’t need the branding — I’m just extra ;-)
More on selecting a Board
This should not be done on a whim and it does not have to be a large group of people. You want people who are aligned with your vision and who are willing to help advocate for your organization. There are tons of articles out there about how to select a Board and what to do once you have one. Your bylaws will determine how the Board is governed. You can also have just one additional Board Member if you’d like, it’s up to you.
INTech’s Board of 6 formed after I got a group of people together to help compete in a Social Entrepreneurship competition in Winter 2015. While my current Board isn’t the exact group of people who were a part of that team, it made sense to have them serve as my Board since they helped groom our strategic plan and business plan.
More on bylaws
Don’t make these more complicated than they have to be. I lucked up because I’ve served on 2 Boards previously (the National Society of Black Engineers and my collegiate chapter for my sorority) so I had some insight on what needed to be included.
Your bylaws are the ‘law’ for how your Board and organization should be governed — from handling funds to selecting new Board Members to the rights and responsibilities of those Board Members. There are a lot of templates out there to help you create bylaws, but again, don’t make them more complicated than they have to be. Depending on the rules you set forth for voting, they can be amended later.
Another thing to note about bylaws is to be sure to include anything that’s required in your state of incorporation. I had to include a section titled “Distribution upon dissolutions” for the state of North Carolina.
After you have your Board and your bylaws, you should have a Board meeting to adopt the bylaws. Congrats — you’re officially official!
More on finding a lawyer
This part was kind of stressful at first because I thought I’d have to do the super long process for getting the 501(c)(3) designation. And even though I have way more lawyers in my network than I realized, I didn’t think they could help me if their specialization wasn’t nonprofits or business law.
I legitimately had everything I needed to file (and probably would have just done it), but I wanted an extra eye. I am in the Blavity Women’s Creators, Leadership, and Techies Facebook group and over the summer, Blavity Founder Morgan DeBaun told us “if you need help with something, ask the group!” So taking her advice, I responded to her post in the group and stated that I was trying to get this paperwork filed. Not too long after I posted my response, a former lawyer, who I had actually met previously in The Bay, reached out saying she’d help — pro bono!
So while I don’t have concrete advice as to how to find a lawyer to help go over your documents, my best advice is to get as much of it done as possible, then try to find someone to help. Use your networks!
Don’t let the process hinder you from progress.
I ran INTech for roughly 2 years before we had these steps completed. I filed for our Articles of Incorporation to be an NC non-profit in July of 2015. I had originally applied for an LLC in 2014, not knowing that it wasn’t the best route for the nature of our business. However, having both allowed me to freelance under one (INTech, LLC.) to help fund the other (INTech Foundation, Inc.).
It’s been a wild journey and my hope is that this post will make some things a little easier for those who want to do some good in the world — and be exempt from taxes while doing it.
If you have any questions or things to add, feel free to reach out!