Start Your Hawaii Nonprofit

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How to Start a Nonprofit in Hawaii

Welcome to our Hawaii Nonprofit Startup Guide! If you’re passionate about helping others and have an idea to serve your community, starting a nonprofit is a great way to turn your vision into a reality. There are many different types of nonprofits - religious, educational, human service oriented, animal welfare, and more. What all nonprofits have in common is a focus on helping others and benefiting their community. You are genuinely committed to these goals so you are already well on your way!

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there were over 9,000 nonprofit organizations in Hawaii in 2012. Before you start a new nonprofit, make sure you have identified an unmet need in your community and know that there are not any existing organizations serving your cause. If another organization exists, consider working together, as that may be a better way to make an impact in your community and use existing resources.

When you are ready to start your nonprofit, plan to incorporate and apply for 501(c)(3) status, as these are important steps to fully achieve your goals. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, you will be able to apply for grants and accept donations, be exempt from federal corporate income tax, and limit the liability of your organization’s officers and directors. Most importantly, you will gain credibility and legitimacy for your cause, instilling the public with confidence in your organization.

This guide will walk you through the basic steps to start your nonprofit in Hawaii. Let’s get started!

  1. Name Your Organization

    Your organization’s name establishes its brand and is also important for incorporating with the state. The legal name of your nonprofit corporation may not conflict with any other organization registered in the state. Make sure the name is available and meets state requirements.

    Name Search: Hawaii Business Registration Division (BREG)
    Name search

    Not required. 
    HRS §414D-61

  2. Recruit Incorporators and Initial Directors

    The incorporator is the person who signs the Articles of Incorporation for your nonprofit. You will need at least one, but can have more than one. Directors make up the governing body of your nonprofit corporation and are stakeholders in your organization’s purpose and success. You’ll want to identify three, unrelated individuals to meet IRS requirements. You will also want to be aware of any age or residency requirements.

    Hawaii director requirements:
    • Number: minimum 3
    • Qualifications: An individual. No residency requirement. No membership requirement.
    • Term: default is 1 year, 5 year maximum
    • Quorum: majority
    • Committee: minimum 2 directors
    Hawaii officer requirements:
    • Defined in articles or bylaws. One officer prepares minutes of the directors' and members' meetings and authenticates records of the corporation.
    • Two or more offices may be held by the same individual.
  3. Appoint a Registered Agent

    A registered agent is responsible for receiving legal notices on behalf of your organization. The appointed registered agent must be physically located in the state and maintain an office that is open during regular business hours. As a nationwide registered agent, our service is designed to receive your legal documents and provide secure access to those documents through your online account. Our local Hawaii registered agent office is located in Honolulu, HI. We offer registered agent service independently or as part of our nonprofit formation packages.

  4. Prepare and File Articles of Incorporation

    Your nonprofit’s articles of incorporation officially mark the creation of your organization. They document where and when the organization was formed and capture other information necessary to verify its existence. While requirements for language vary from state-to-state, there are some basic provisions that the IRS will look for when you apply for 501(c)(3) exemption. It is important to customize the articles for your organization and make sure you meet the state and IRS requirements. Meeting these requirements from the start will help avoid having to make amendments later or risk getting your 501(c)(3) application rejected. Some states will also require you to publish your articles of incorporation, so be mindful of any deadlines and publishing instructions.

    Agency:Hawaii Business Registration Division (BREG)

    Articles of Incorporation


    Form DNP-1 Instructions

    Filing Method:

    Mail, fax, in-person or online

    Agency Fee:

    $26 + optional $25 expedite fee


    ~7-14 business days by mail. ~3-5 business days by fax, in-person, or online. ~1-3 business days if you file online and pay the $25 expedite fee.


    Hawaii Statutes - Chapter 414d: Hawaii Nonprofit Corporations Act


    Filing online will NOT result in sufficient language for 501(c) exemption. You must add provisions to the paper form.

  5. File Initial Report

    After filing articles of incorporation, you must file an initial report.

    Not required

  6. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

    This unique, nine-digit number is assigned by the IRS to identify your nonprofit. All types of nonprofits will apply for an EIN, not only those that hire employees. You will use your EIN to open a bank account, apply for 501(c)(3) status, and submit 990 returns to the IRS.

    Agency:Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

    IRS Form SS-4


    Applying for an EIN without a SSN/TIN:

    • Online applications are not accepted if an individual does not have a SSN/TIN.
    • Form SS-4 must be completed, signed, and faxed to the IRS, leaving the SSN/TIN field blank or adding the terminology "foreign" to that line item.
    • To follow up on the application, call the IRS and ensure they received the application. 
      • Depending on the agent you speak with, you may be able to obtain the EIN over the phone. The IRS may then fax the EIN documentation back to you.
    Filing Method:

    Mail, phone, fax, or online.

    IRS fee:



    Immediately online or by phone. 4 business days by fax. 4-5 weeks by mail.


    The IRS website is only available during certain hours. Print your EIN before closing your session. For additional guidance, see IRS Pub 1635: Understanding Your EIN.

  7. Store Nonprofit Records

    As you launch your nonprofit, you will receive a number of official documents. Organizing these documents in one place will save you headaches down the road. You will soon have numerous items to keep in your records including your EIN letter, bylaws, meeting minutes, 501(c)(3) determination letter, and more.

    A preview of our Records Manager software

    A great way to maintain necessary documentation is Records Manager, our software for storing records securely, tracking directors and officers, and getting notified of meetings.

  8. Establish Initial Governing Documents and Policies

    Your bylaws are the governing document for your nonprofit. They serve as your organization’s operating manual and should be consistent with your articles of incorporation and the law. When your Board of Directors meets for the first time, you’ll review and ratify the bylaws and they will be a roadmap for governance from there.

    At the same time, you’ll also want to create and adopt a conflict of interest policy. A conflict of interest is when someone in a key position in your nonprofit has competing interests and is making choices that could benefit themselves to the harm of the organization. Personal interests should be set aside and organizational interests prioritized. If a conflict of interest does arise, it should be disclosed immediately.

    Your application to the IRS for 501(c)(3) exemption will require that both the bylaws and the conflict of interest policy are approved and adopted. Once they’ve been adopted, safely store them in your Nonprofit Records Kit.

  9. Hold Organizational Meeting of the Board of Directors

    The initial organizational meeting of your Board of Directors will be incredibly productive. At this meeting you will approve the bylaws, adopt the conflict of interest policy, elect directors, appoint officers, and approve resolutions such as opening the organization’s bank account. Important decisions are being made so be sure to record them in the meeting minutes.

  10. Get Hawaii State Tax Identification Numbers/Accounts

    Hawaii offers a consolidated state tax registration application. This application simplifies the process of starting a business in Hawaii by allowing you to register for various State tax and employer licenses and permits, including general excise tax (GET), withholding (WH) tax, and unemployment insurance (UI) tax.

    Submit to: State of Hawaii - Department of Taxation
    Form: Form BB-1: State of Hawaii Basic Business Application
    Filing Method: Mail or online
    Fee: $20
  11. Apply for 501(c)

    Applying for 501(c) tax exemption can feel like the most daunting step in bringing your nonprofit dream into reality, but obtaining tax exemption comes with many benefits. You will be able to apply for grants and grow your fundraising success in addition to being exempt from IRS income tax. 501(c) is the chapter of the Internal Revenue Code that regulates nonprofit organizations. Like others, you may be most familiar with 501(c)(3) nonprofits, including charities and foundations. 501(c)(3) nonprofits apply using Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ. Review the criteria for each application and make sure you meet the eligibility requirements set out by the IRS. Other types of nonprofits, including 501(c)(4)s and 501(c)(6)s, apply using Form 1024. After reviewing and approving your application, the IRS will return a Determination Letter officially recognizing your exemption.

    Completing the federal application for tax exemption is significantly easier with the assistance and support of a professional. Find someone with the expertise to ensure the correct application is being used and is completed accurately. A well-prepared application takes time, over 100 hours by IRS estimates, so put yourself on the path to success by finding a specialist to walk alongside you in the journey - from start to tax-exempt finish!

    Agency:Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

    IRS Form 1023IRS Form 1023-EZ, or IRS Form 1024


    IRS Instructions for Form 1023IRS Instructions for Form 1023-EZ, or IRS Instructions for Form 1024.  Also see guidance IRS Pub 557: Tax-Exempt Status for Your Organization.

    Filing Method:


    Agency Fee:

    $275 for organizations filing Form 1023-EZ and $600 for organizations filing Form 1023.


    1023-EZ average: <1 month. 1023 average: 3-6 months.

    Tax-Exempt in 2 Weeks!

    Download the case study of how our client, Reform It Now, obtained 501(c)(3) tax exemption in only two weeks using the new IRS Form 1023-EZ!

    From filing the 1023EZ on August 1st to receipt of the determination letter on August 14th is, in my humble opinion, simply breathtaking and I dare say, ONLY Harbor Compliance could have achieved that.
    Dr. Bob A.Reform It Now, Inc.
  12. Report Beneficial Ownership Information to FinCEN

    As of January 1, 2024, millions of entities in the US need to report beneficial ownership information (BOI) to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) as part of the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA). Nonprofits without 501(c) tax exemption formed before that date must submit BOI by December 31, 2024, while those formed after must submit it within 30 days of formation. Once 501(c) tax exemption is granted, the organization may claim an exemption from BOI reporting requirements via an update filing to FinCEN. Our BOI Reporting Service includes up to four initial, updated, and corrected reports per year, ensuring the data you report to FinCEN is updated.

  13. Apply for State Tax Exemption(s)

    With your IRS Determination Letter in hand, make sure you familiarize yourself with your state’s requirements for recognizing your nonprofit’s tax-exempt status. This is an area where requirements vary state-by-state. Many states issue their own tax-exempt certificate that can be used for sales and use tax purposes, but it may require application and periodic renewal.

    To file to obtain exemption from state income tax:

    Not required

    Your IRS determination letter granting exemption from federal income taxes, also exempts your organization from Hawaii income taxes. Organizations that are not required to file an application for recognition of exemption with the IRS are exempt from Hawaii income taxes.

    More information: Hawaii Department of Taxation

    To file to obtain General Excise Tax Exemption:

    Agency:Hawaii Department of Taxation

    G-6: Application for Exemption from General Excise Taxes


    Agency Fee:

    $20 unless you already have a Hawaii GET tax ID number.


    Hawaii does not have sales tax; instead, it has general excise tax (GET).Hawaii does not have sales tax; instead, it has general excise tax (GET).

  14. Register for Charitable Solicitation (Fundraising)

    This is another area where laws differ from state to state, but most states require any nonprofit soliciting donations to register to do so on an annual basis. This means registering in the state prior to soliciting any resident of that state. Registering in your home state is essential, but you may also need to register other states depending on the scope of your organization.

    Hawaii Charity Registration

    Agency:Hawaii Tax and Charities Division

    Hawaii Revised Statutes § 467B-2.1

    Foreign Qualification is Prerequisite:No
    Exam Required?Not Set
    Registered Agent (Special Agency) Required?Yes

    One-Time Exemption Registration

    Exemption Eligible Organizations:
    • Charitable organizations that normally receive less than $25,000 in contributions annually and do not compensate any professional solicitor or professional fundraising counsel
    • Any duly organized religious corporation, institution, or society that is exempt from filing Form 990 with the IRS
    • Parent-teacher associations
    • Any educational institution that is licensed or accredited by any of the following licensing or accrediting organizations or their successor organizations:
      • Hawaii Association of Independent Schools
      • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
      • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
      • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
      • Higher Learning Commission
      • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
      • Southern Association of Schools and Colleges
      • The National Association for the Education of Young Children
      • Cognia
    • Any organization exempt from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code expressly authorized by, and having an established identity with, an accredited education institution provided that the organization's solicitation of contributions is primarily directed to the students, alumni, faculty, and trustees of the institutions and their respective families
    • Any nonprofit hospital licensed by the State or any similar provision of the laws of any other state
    • Government agencies
    • Congressionally chartered organizations that submit financial reports to the Secretary of Defense
    Filing Method:


    Agency Fee:



    Hawaii Revised Statutes § 467B-11.5

    Original Ink:Not required
    Notarization Required?:Not required

    Exemptions do not expire as long as the organization continues to qualify under the exemption criteria.

    Initial Registration

    Filing Method:


    Agency Fee:



    4-6 weeks

    Original Ink:Not required
    Notarization Required?:Not required
    Before you Apply:

    Domestic Applicants:

    • Check the available exemptions to see if your charity is eligible for exemption from the full registration requirement.
    • Appoint a registered agent to receive legal documents in Hawaii.
    • If your charity meets the audit threshold, obtain an audited financial report to submit with your registration application.
    • Look through the list of required attachments and make sure that you have each required document in hand before starting the registration application.

    Foreign Applicants:

    • Check the available exemptions to see if your charity is eligible for exemption from the full registration requirement.
    • Appoint a registered agent to receive legal documents in Hawaii.
    • If your charity meets the audit threshold, obtain an audited financial report to submit with your registration application.
    • Look through the list of required attachments and make sure that you have each required document in hand before starting the registration application.
    • If you will foreign qualify in Hawaii, obtain a certificate of good standing from your home state to submit during the foreign qualification process. The certificate cannot be more than 60 days old when filing foreign qualification documents.
    How to Apply:

    Domestic Applicants:

    1. File entity formation documents with the Hawaii Business Registration Division (BREG).
    2. Create a 990 online account and complete the charity registration.

    Foreign Applicants:

    1. Determine whether or not your charity will need to foreign qualify based on your activity in Hawaii. If not required, skip to number 3.
    2. File foreign qualification documents with the Hawaii Business Registration Division (BREG).
    3. Create a 990 online account and complete the charity registration.
    Required Attachments:

    • IRS form 990
    • Audited financials (if applicable)
    • Articles of incorporation
    • IRS determination letter
    • List of officers and directors
    • List of other states where registered to solicit

    Registration Renewal
    Hawaii Transmittal

    Filing Method:


    Agency Fee:

    Depends on gross revenue:

    • $0 for less than $25,000 in gross revenue
    • $25 for at least $25,000 but less than $50,000 in gross revenue
    • $50 for at least $50,000 but less than $100,000 in gross revenue
    • $100 for at least $100,000 but less than $250,000 in gross revenue
    • $150 for at least $250,000 but less than $500,000 in gross revenue
    • $200 for at least $500,000 but less than $1,000,000 in gross revenue
    • $250 for at least $1,000,000 but less than $2,000,000 in gross revenue
    • $350 for at least $2,000,000 but less than $5,000,000 in gross revenue
    • $600 for $5,000,000 and over in gross revenue
    • Charities that file Form 990, 990-EZ, or 990-PF must renew annually within 10 business days of the date the charity files its 990 with the IRS. 990s are due by the 15th day of the 5th month after the close of the organization's fiscal year.
    • Charities that file a Form 990-N or that are not required to file a Form 990, 990-EZ, or 990-PF must renew by the 15th day of the 5th month following the close of their fiscal year.
    • There is no official start to the renewal period, so renewals may be submitted as soon as financials become available for the most recently completed fiscal year.
    Due Date Extension:

    Hawaii honors extensions granted by the IRS to file Form 990. Organizations are not required to submit proof of an IRS extension unless requested by the Department, at which point they will have 20 days to provide the Department with a copy.

    Original Ink:Not required
    Notarization Required?:Not required

    The Attorney General may assess late fees of $20 per day up to a maximum fee of $1,000 against an organization for the failure to timely file its renewal.

    Required Attachments:

    • IRS form 990
    • Audited financials (if applicable)

    Contract Filing

    Filing Method:


    Agency Fee:



    1-2 business days


    File a notice of entry into contract at least 10 days prior to the commencement of the charitable sales promotion.


    Hawaii Revised Statutes § 467B-5.5


    An authorized representative of the charitable organization and the commercial co-venturer must sign the written consent, and the terms of the written consent must include the following:

    1. The goods or services to be offered to the public;
    2. The geographic area where, and the starting and final date when, the offering is to be made;
    3. The manner in which the name of the charitable organization is to be used, including any representation to be made to the public as to the amount or per cent per unit of goods or services purchased or used that is to benefit the charitable organization;
    4. A provision for a final accounting on a per unit basis to be given by the commercial co-venturer to the charitable organization and the date when it is to be made, which date shall be no more than ninety days after the end of the charitable sales promotion; and
    5. The date when and the manner in which the benefit is to be conferred on the charitable organization.

    Change of Fiscal Year


    Email to update fiscal year. You will then need to file the short year in the system.



    Written Request for Deactivation Form

    Filing Method:

    Mail or email to

    Agency Fee:



    To close out your registration, submit the deactivation request form. If the deactivation request is submitted during the first half of an organization's fiscal year, there is no need to submit a report for that fiscal year. If the deactivation request is submitted during the second half of an organization's fiscal year, it must submit an annual report for the current fiscal year.

    To fundraise nationally or online, please see our Fundraising Compliance Guide. Our services manage your initial, renewal, and exemption filings in every state.

  15. Obtain Other Business Licenses & Permits

    Running your nonprofit corporation legally also means securing all applicable licenses and permits. The range of local, state, and federal requirements is wide. Access resources like the Small Business Administration Business License & Permit look-up tool and search by your business type and locality.

    Unlike many states, Hawaii does not have charitable gaming laws to provide special treatment of fundraising using bingos, raffles, and other charitable games. Instead, nonprofits conducting these activities are subject to the general Hawaii Gambling Laws. Many nonprofits work carefully to be in compliance with this law - for example, consider the Hawaii Attorney General Guidance on Charitable “Raffles”.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some of our clients incorporate on their own and seek our professional assistance with the next steps. In such cases, we review the existing documentation and make any necessary changes. We’re happy to help at any point. Keep in mind, the earlier you enlist our expertise, the more time you’ll save and the greater success you'll experience in the end!

If you have an existing for-profit entity and are looking to transition to a nonprofit, we are very familiar with this situation and can help! Simply sign up for our professional formation services, and your specialist will review your existing entity and assist with the appropriate next steps.

You are not required to use an attorney. You can set up your nonprofit yourself but doing so requires a great deal of expertise and time. The IRS estimates the 501(c)(3) application takes over 100 hours in research and preparation. Enlisting the help of a professional greatly increases your likelihood of success and saves you time. With our professional formation services, your specialist prepares and files your applications for you with guaranteed approval. Take advantage of our track record of 100% IRS approval and get your nonprofit approved, guaranteed!

You’ve made it! You turned your passion into a legitimate nonprofit corporation exempt under IRS 501(c) and are benefiting your community. That solid foundation on which you built your organization requires ongoing maintenance. Investing in maintaining compliance with all of the government agencies is an ongoing responsibility and commitment needed to ensure your vision continues long into the future. Check out our compliance guide to learn more!

Once you have registered your nonprofit per the steps listed above, you will need to maintain compliance with all of the government agencies. Staying current with the IRS and state requirements is an ongoing responsibility. Continue reading our Hawaii nonprofit compliance guide to learn more!

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Fast Facts

Below is an overview of the paperwork, cost, and time to start an Hawaii nonprofit.

  • Form DNP-1: Articles of Incorporation
  • Bylaws
  • IRS Form SS-4: Obtain an EIN
  • IRS Form 1023: 501(c) Tax Exempt Application
  • IRS Determination Letter
  • Form BB-1: State of Hawaii Basic Business Application
  • Form G-6: Application for Exemption from General Excise Tax
  • URS Charitable Registration, if applicable
  • Hawaii Charitable Organization Registration or Exemption Application
  • FinCEN Beneficial Ownership Report

  • Incorporation: $26 + optional $25 expedite fee
  • 501(c): $275 or $600 IRS fee
  • Form BB-1: $20

  • Incorporation: ~7-14 business days by mail. ~3-5 business days by fax, in-person, or online. ~1-3 business days if you file online and pay the $25 expedite fee.
  • 501(c): 2 weeks to 3 months