Updated November 26, 2020:

Knowing how to start a nonprofit organization in PA isn't as difficult as you might imagine. As long as you meet a few simple requirements, such as choosing a name for your company and appointing a registered agent, you should easily be able to establish your organization.

Picking a Name and Recruiting

The most important part of starting your nonprofit is choosing a name. In addition to branding your nonprofit, choosing a name is a requirement for incorporation. The name you choose for your nonprofit cannot infringe on the name of another organization. You should pick a name that is not yet registered and complies with the state's naming conventions.

After you have chosen a suitable name for your nonprofit, you will need to recruit an incorporator, which is the person who will provide their signature to your Articles of Incorporation. Every nonprofit in the state must have at least one incorporator, but you can have several incorporators if you wish. You also need to find directors for your nonprofit, who are responsible for governing your organization. To comply with IRS nonprofit requirements, you need at least three directors, and these individuals cannot be related.

The requirements in Pennsylvania for nonprofit directors are as follows:

  • Must be of legal age, but do not need to reside in the state or meet any membership requirements.
  • Must serve for at least a year.
  • A majority of directors counts as a quorum.
  • Only one director is needed on a committee.

Nonprofit officers must also meet certain requirements:

  • Officers must include a secretary, president, and treasurer.
  • The secretary and president should be real people and of legal age. Corporations or natural people can serve as treasurers.
  • An individual can hold multiple offices.

Articles of Incorporation and Registered Agent

Nonprofit organizations in Pennsylvania must appoint a registered agent who will receive legal notices sent to the organization. The registered agent that you hire must be a resident of the state, and should also maintain an office where they can be contacted during normal business hours.

Your nonprofit will be created when you file your articles of incorporation, which is a document that includes vital information about your organization, including when and where it was formed. Different states have different requirements for articles of incorporation, and in addition to following state rules, you also need to be certain you're including information required by the IRS for 501(c) (3) tax-exempt entities.

Your articles should be written so that they meet both IRS and state-level requirements. Fulfilling these requirements from the get-go means you won't have to amend your articles at a later time. This will also help you avoid having the IRS reject your tax-exempt status application. In some states, you must publish your articles in addition to filing them.

Once you have prepared your articles, you can file them with the Pennsylvania Department of State Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations. You can file your articles online or by mail, and you will need to pay a $125 filing fee. You can expect processing of your articles to take five to 10 business days. You should include a Pennsylvania docketing statement with your articles of incorporation.

Make sure that your articles include the following information:

  • The name of your nonprofit.
  • Your registered agent's address.
  • A description of the purpose of your nonprofit.
  • A statement that your nonprofit is not interested in making a profit or gain.
  • A statement that you are forming your organization based on the Nonprofit Corporation Law of 1988.
  • Information about the members of your organization, if you plan to have any at all.
  • The address and name of each of your nonprofit's incorporators.
  • How long you plan for your nonprofit to exist.
  • Your organization's effective date.

Publishing and EIN

Corporations in Pennsylvania must publish their articles of incorporation filing. You must publish this filing in at least two newspapers that are in general circulation. One of these newspapers should be a legal newspaper. The publications should take place in the same county where your registered agent is located. You should wait to schedule these publications until after the state has approved your articles.

Your nonprofit also needs an Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is a nine-digit number issued by the IRS. Your EIN will be used to identify your organization. Even if your nonprofit doesn't have employees, you still need an EIN. Once you have your EIN, you'll be able to complete several tasks:

  • Open a bank account for your business.
  • Apply for tax-exempt status.
  • File 990 returns.

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