Monthly Archives: May 2018

Starting Your Nonprofit

You’ve decided to start a nonprofit!  You see a need in your community, and you plan to do something about it.  So, where do you start?

  • First, do some brainstorming:
  • What do you hope to achieve, and how do you plan to go about it?
  • What will your organization do that existing organizations aren’t doing?
  • Where will the money come from?
  • What other resources will you need?
  • Will you be able to recruit volunteers?
  • Will you have paid employees?
  • Are there existing groups that you can partner with?

Write out a plan and a budget.   Identify your goals, your own skills and resources, and potential sources of assistance.

Next, decide on a legal structure.  Many nonprofits exist as unincorporated associations, but there may be advantages to creating a nonprofit corporation.  You might want to consult an attorney to discuss the pros and cons.  If you decide to incorporate, you will need to recruit a Board of Directors to manage the organization, register your Articles of Incorporation with your state government (in most states, this registration is done through the Secretary of State’s office), and meet any other state requirements.   Whether or not you incorporate the organization, you will need written documents to outline how your organization will operate.

The next step is to obtain a Federal Tax Identification Number, also known as an Employer ID number (EIN), from the IRS.  Even if the organization will have no paid employees, this will be needed to establish a bank account and to file reports with the IRS.   The IRS has streamlined this procedure, and it can be completed on their website at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/how-to-apply-for-an-ein.

Once your organization has obtained an EIN, it needs to apply to the IRS to recognize its tax-exempt status.  Nonprofits are exempt from income tax because they have no owners or shareholders; the money they receive is used to carry out the organization’s purposes, and any money left over is kept for future use or donated to other nonprofits.  However, most nonprofits are still required to file annual reports with the IRS.  If your organization wants to be recognized as a charity (its purpose must be charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, or preventing cruelty to children or animals), you should apply to the IRS using Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption from Income Tax Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  If your nonprofit falls into a different category (for example, a social club or a political organization), you would use IRS Form 1024.  More information is available on the IRS website and in IRS Publication 557.

Once the IRS has approved your application, they will issue a Letter of Determination that specifies your Federal tax-exempt status and whether contributions to your organization are tax-deductible.  But depending on the state where you are located, you may have to apply for exemption from state taxes too.  For example, California and Texas are two of the states that require a separate application to be exempt from state franchise tax.  State laws also vary as to whether a nonprofit organization is exempt from other state taxes such as sales tax.

Your Letter of Determination will also specify whether you must file an IRS Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, each year.  That form is generally due four months and 15 days after the close of your organization’s fiscal year.

Nonprofit organizations are required to disclose information on their finances to the public.  Your Form 990 is considered public information and you must provide copies upon request.  You may also be required to include information telling how to request those copies on your website and in any solicitation literature.

And will your organization be soliciting donations from the public?  If so, most states will require you to register to solicit donations in their state.  We won’t go into the details here, because registration requirements and fees are different for each state.  If you hire a professional fundraiser or fundraising consultant, they may also be required to register.   Then most charitable solicitation registrations must be renewed each year, and you may be required to obtain an independent audit of the organization’s financial statements.  It can get complicated, but that’s why we’re here–to make the process easier.

Starting a Nonprofit and Soliciting Donations in Connecticut

In Connecticut, charities are regulated by the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP).  Any charity that solicits donations in Connecticut must register or file a claim for exemption from registration with the DCP.

Your organization may also need to apply for tax exempt status from the IRS and/or register with the Connecticut Secretary of State to do business in the state.  However, you do not have to file with the IRS or the Secretary of State in order to apply to register with DCP for charitable solicitation.  You may wish to consult an attorney or an accountant to determine what is best for your organization.

Before beginning to solicit donations in Connecticut, an organization must apply for registration, unless they meet the requirements for exemption.  They can file a claim for exemption if they meet any of the categories below:

  • Organized religious corporations, religious institutions, or religious societies;
  • Parent-teacher associations or educational institutions accredited and recognized by a government body;
  • Non-profit hospitals licensed under the laws of Connecticut or another state;
  • Governmental units in the United States; or
  • An organization that receives less than $50,000 in contributions annually, as long as the organization does not pay anyone to conduct solicitations.

If the claim for exemption is approved, the organization does not have to file again unless their status changes and they no longer qualify for exemption.  Exempt organizations are listed along with registered organizations on the DCP’s website at www.elicense.ct.gov, as organizations legally able to solicit contributions.

If your organization cannot claim an exemption, you must:

  1. Complete the initial registration form;
  2. Provide a copy of your most recent IRS Form 990;
  3. Provide audited financial statements if your revenue on the Form 990 exceeds $500,000; and
  4. Pay a $50 registration fee.

However, you do not have to furnish financial documents if you have not completed your first fiscal year or filed your first IRS form 990.

Any changes to the organization’s name, address, officers, tax exempt status, legal form, or fiscal year end must be reported to DCP within 30 days.

Registered organizations that wish to continue soliciting donations must renew their registration each year.  Renewal notices are send by email about 60 days before registration expires.  One email message will contain the user ID and a second message will contain the password.  Blank renewal forms are also available on the DCP website.

An organization should cross out any incorrect information on their renewal notice and write in the corrected information.  To renew online, they must upload the corrected and signed renewal notice, the IRS Form 990, and their audit report, if an audit is required.  They can pay the $50 registration fee with a credit or debit card.

If the organization’s registration is still due more than 65 days past the expiration date, they must apply for reinstatement by mail.  They will have to mail in a reinstatement form, the required attachments, any required audit report, and the $50 registration fee, plus a late fee of $25 per month.

If the organization will no longer solicit donations in Connecticut, they may withdraw by sending in the Form 990 for the last year in which they solicited donations, their registration number, and either a letter stating the date of withdrawal or a copy of a dissolution document.

Paid solicitors and professional fundraisers must also register in Connecticut.  These rules do not apply to any fundraiser who is either a permanent employee of the charity or a volunteer.

If a person or company plans, manages, or otherwise advises a charity regarding fundraising but does not solicit donations themselves or hire anyone to solicit donations, they must register as a fundraising counsel.  A fundraising counsel must have a contract with the charity and must submit a copy of the contract to the DCP.

If the person or company is hired to directly solicit contributions, they must pay an annual fee of $500 and post a $20,000 surety bond with DCP.  They must also file a notice-to-solicit at the start of each fundraising campaign and a financial report at its conclusion.  These reports are filed jointly with the charitable organization.

Volunteer fundraisers must have an organization’s written permission to use their name and should verify that the organization is registered to solicit donations.  If you wish to hold an auction or raffle to benefit a charity, you should check for local requirements or restrictions.