Start Your Massachusetts Nonprofit

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How to Start a Nonprofit in Massachusetts

Welcome to our Massachusetts 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 42,000 nonprofit organizations in Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts. 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: Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth - Corporations Division
    Name search

    The name of the organization must indicate that it is a corporation. Churches and other religious societies are exempt from this requirement.
    MA Gen. L Chapter 155 § 9

  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.

    Massachusetts director requirements:
    • Number: minimum 1
    • Qualifications: Natural persons. No residency requirement. No membership requirement.
    • Term: minimum 1 year, maximum 5 years
    • Quorum: majority
    • Committee: minimum 1 director
    Massachusetts officer requirements:
    • A president, a treasurer, and a clerk are required.
    • The president must be a director.
    • The clerk must be a Massachusetts resident unless a resident agent was appointed.
  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 Massachusetts registered agent office is located in Pittsfield, MA. 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:Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth - Corporations Division

    Articles of Organization

    Filing Method:

    Mail, fax, in-person, or online.

    Agency Fee:

    $35 by mail and $41 if filing online or by fax.


    ~2-3 business days


    Massachusetts General Laws (M.G.L.) - Part I: Administration of the Government - Title XXII: Corporations - Charpter 180: Corporations for Charitable and Other Purposes

  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

    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 Massachusetts State Tax Identification Numbers/Accounts

    Massachusetts offers a consolidated state tax registration application.

    Submit to: Massachusetts Department of Revenue
    Instructions: Instructions
    Guidance: Tax type descriptions
    Filing Method: Online
    Fee: $0
    Notes: Obtain an EIN first. If needed, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue will mail you Form ST-1: Sales and Use Tax Registration (access to this form is restricted).
  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 before January 1, 2025, 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 completes the initial filing and provides support for updating your information going forward. We will:

    1. Submit your beneficial ownership filings to FinCEN
    2. Handle initial filing, updates, and changes as needed
    3. Ensure compliance with BOI reporting requirements for $149 per year

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  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:

    Agency:Massachusetts Department of Revenue
    Agency Fee:



    Submit: Registration (if not already registered), a copy of the IRS Determination Letter of Exemption granting the corporation Section 501 (c) status, a copy of the Articles of Organization filed with the Secretary of State's Office, and a copy of the IRS documentation of Employer Federal Identification Number if it is not stated on the IRS Section 501 (c) Determination Letter.

    To file to obtain Sales Tax Exemption:

    Agency:Massachusetts Department of Revenue

    There is no application form for sales tax exemption; simply send in your IRS determination letter with an explanation and the department will review the request.

    To apply for exemptions on local property taxes, submit Form 3ABC to your local assessor with a copy of the IRS Determination Letter.

  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.

    Massachusetts Charity Registration

    Agency:Massachusetts Attorney General - Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division

    Massachusetts General Laws Ch 12, §8e and 8f; Ch 68 §18 through 35

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

    Automatic Exemption

    Exemption Eligible Organizations:
    • An organization that is primarily religious in purpose and falls under the regulations 940 CMR 2.00
    • An organization that does not raise or receive contributions from the public in excess of $5,000 during a calendar year or does not receive contributions from more than ten persons during a calendar year, if all of their functions, including fundraising activities, are performed by persons who are not paid for their services and if no part of their assets or income inures to the benefit of, or is paid to, any officer or members

    Massachusetts Law Title XI Chapter 86 Section 20

    Initial Registration

    • For Initial Charity Registrations:
      • Organizations that have never filed with the Attorney General's Office and do not currently have an Attorney General Account Number assigned can take the following steps: 
        • Start by submitting the Registration eForm online and attaching required supporting documents such as Articles of Organization, Bylaws, and IRS determination letter.  
        • After your Registration eForm has been reviewed, you will receive specific instructions via email on how to complete your registration through the new Charity Portal. 
        • You will then be able to pay the registration fee and submit any required filings through the Charity Portal after you have been assigned an Attorney General Account Number. 
    • For Annual Form PC Filings
      • Organizations that have been assigned an Attorney General Account Number and wish to submit Annual Form PC Filings:
        • Charities may now meet their annual filing requirements through the AGO’s new Charity Portal. 
        • Filers must first create a free Charity Portal account.  Click here for instructions on how to create this account. 
        • After creating a Charity Portal account, filers may complete the Form PC through the Charity Portal, available here.  Electronic signatures and payment of required fees will also be accomplished through the Charity Portal. 
    Filing Method:


    Agency Fee:

    Initial registration fee of $100 plus:

    • $50 Schedule A-2 fee for organizations registering before their initial fiscal year end date, or
    • $35-$2,000 (depending on gross support and revenue) for organizations registering in subsequent fiscal years

    4-6 months

    • The President and another officer or trustee must sign.
    • Please submit each registration document required as a separate PDF attachment.  When naming PDF files, please use the following naming conventions, and include the organization name and the type of submission being made:
      • For Charity Registration Form: “OrgName RegistrationForm.pdf”
      • For Articles of Incorporation: “OrgName Articles.pdf”
      • For Bylaws: “OrgName Bylaws.pdf”
      • For IRS determination letter: “OrgName IRS letter.pdf”
      • For Board of Directors list: “OrgName BoD list.pdf”
      • For Schedule A-2 Form: “OrgName ScheduleA2.pdf”
    • For any submission which includes one or more Form PC filings, please label each part of the filings (Form PC, 990, financial statement) as separate files and include the fiscal year. 
    Before you Apply:

    Domestic Applicants:

    • Check the available exemptions to see if your charity is eligible for exemption from the full registration requirement.
    • 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.
    • 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 Massachusetts, 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 Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth.
    2. Complete a Public Charity Registration through the Charity Portal.

    Foreign Applicants:

    1. Determine whether or not your charity will need to foreign qualify based on your activity in Massachusetts. If not required, skip to number 3.
    2. File foreign qualification documents with the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth.
    3. Complete a Public Charity Registration through the Charity Portal.
    Required Attachments:
    • IRS form 990 (charities with gross support and revenue of less than $25,000 are not required to submit)
    • Audited financials (if applicable)
    • Articles of incorporation
    • Bylaws
    • IRS determination letter
    • List of officers and directors

    Registration Renewal

    Filing Method:


    Agency Fee:

    $35-$2,000, depending on gross support and revenue.

    • Annually within 4.5 months after the close of your nonprofit's fiscal year. So if your fiscal calendar ends December 31, then the renewal is due by May 15.
    • 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:

    Due dates can be extended for 6 months beyond the original due date by emailing with an explanation of your request for extension.

    Original Ink:Required
    Required Attachments:
    • IRS form 990 (charities with gross support and revenue of less than $25,000 are not required to submit)
    • Audited financials (if applicable)
    • List of officers and directors
    • Only if amended: IRS determination letter, articles of incorporation, and bylaws
    • If applicable: list of other states the organization is registered in

    Contract Filing


    Form 10B: Addendum to Registration Statement to be Filed by Commercial Co-venturers

    Filing Method:


    Agency Fee:



    Within 10 days of signing and prior to the commencement of any new co-venturing activity.


    Every contract or agreement between a professional solicitor or a commercial co-venturer and a charitable organization must include:

    1. A statement of the charitable purposes to be described in the solicitation; and
    2. A statement of the guaranteed minimum percentage of the gross receipts from fund-raising which will be utilized exclusively for the charitable purposes described in the solicitation.

    Change of Fiscal Year


    Form PC


    Send a cover letter explaining the change in fiscal year along with the Form PC and a copy of the amended Articles of Incorporation.


    Agency Fee:



    To close out your registration, submit a letter indicating the desire to withdraw and include the date Massachusetts solicitations will end. If soliciting took place in a partial fiscal year, submit a renewal for that 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.

    Massachusetts nonprofits who wish to conduct bingo, casino nights, raffles, pull tabs, and other charitable games must become a charitable gaming agent at Massachusetts Lottery - Charitable Gaming Division. License requirements and fees vary based on the game.

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 Massachusetts nonprofit compliance guide to learn more!

Harbor Compliance® proudly partners with the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network to provide insightful resources and compliance solutions to nonprofits in Massachusetts.

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Fast Facts

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

  • Massachusetts Articles of Organization
  • Bylaws
  • IRS Form SS-4: Apply for EIN
  • IRS Form 1023: Application for 501(c)(3) Exemption
  • IRS Determination Letter
  • Massachusetts Form TA-1: Application for Registration (WebFile)
  • Massachusetts Corporate Excise Tax Exemption Application
  • Massachusetts Property Tax Exemption Application
  • URS Charitable Registration, if applicable
  • Massachusetts Form PC or Short Form PC: Charitable Registration
  • FinCEN Beneficial Ownership Report

  • Incorporation: $35
  • 501(c): $275 or $600 IRS fee
  • Massachusetts Charitable Registration: usually $150

  • Incorporation: ~2-3 business days
  • 501(c): 2 weeks to 3 months
  • Massachusetts Charitable Registration: 6-8 weeks