Start Your Pennsylvania Nonprofit

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How to Start a Nonprofit in Pennsylvania

Welcome to our Pennsylvania 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 62,000 nonprofit organizations in Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania. 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: Pennsylvania Department of State - Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations
    Name search
    Suffix:

    Not required. Pennsylvania Code Title 15 §203

  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.

    Pennsylvania director requirements:
    • Number: minimum 1; default 3
    • Qualifications: Natural person of full age (some exceptions). No residency requirement. No membership requirement.
    • Term: 1 year
    • Quorum: majority
    • Committee: minimum 1 director
    Pennsylvania officer requirements:
    • A president, a secretary, and a treasurer are required.
    • The president and secretary must be natural persons of full age. The treasurer may be a corporation or a natural person of full age.
    • 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 Pennsylvania registered agent office is located in Lancaster, PA. 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:Pennsylvania Department of State - Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations
    Form:

    Articles of Incorporation

    Filing method:

    Mail or using Online Business Registration Interview (OBRI)

    State Fee:

    $0

    Turnaround:

    ~5-10 business days.

    Law:

    15 Pa.C.S. Subpart C

    Notes:
  5. Publish Incorporation

    Pennsylvania domestic corporations must publish filing of the articles of incorporation in two newspapers of general circulation, one of which must be a legal newspaper. Both publications must be in the county of your registered agent. We recommend publishing only after the articles of incorporation are approved, though you may also publish prior to filing.
  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)
    Form:

    IRS Form SS-4

    Guidance:

    IRS Pub 1635: Understanding Your EIN

    Filing method:

    Mail, phone, fax, or online

    IRS fee:

    $0

    Turnaround:

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

    Notes:

    The IRS website is only available during certain hours. Print your EIN before closing your session.

  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. Consider purchasing a Nonprofit Records Kit that makes it easy to keep track of documents.

  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 Pennsylvania State Tax Identification Numbers/Accounts

    Pennsylvania issues multiple tax IDs - one for each tax account number (box number). For example, if your business sells candy bars and has employees, you will have separate tax account numbers for sales tax and employer withholding tax.

    Submit to: Pennsylvania Department of Revenue
    www.revenue.state.pa.us/
    Form: PA-100: PA Enterprise Registration Form
    Guidance: REV-558: Starting a Business in Pennsylvania - A Beginner's Guide
    Fee: $0 + fees for needed licenses
    Filing Method: Mail or using Online Business Registration Interview (OBRI)
    Notes: The section of the PA-100 that discusses sales tax exemption only results in an application (REV-72) being mailed to you.

    More information on PA-100

  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)
    Form:

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

    Instructions:

    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:

    Mail

    State Fee:

    $275, $400, or $850, depending on form and annual gross receipts

    Turnaround:

    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. 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.

    Upon obtaining your IRS Determination Letter, your organization is automatically exempt from Pennsylvania corporate income tax. No application or notification is necessary.

    To file to obtain Sales Tax Exemption:

    Agency:Pennsylvania Department of Revenue
    Form:

    Form REV-72: Application for Sales Tax Exemption

    State fee:

    $0

    Due:

    Once every five years. Approximately 2 months before an organization's sales tax exemption expires, the Department of Revenue will send a renewal packet to the organization.

    Law:Institutions of purely public Charity Act of 1997
  13. 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 in essential, but you may also need to register other states depending on the scope of your organization.

    To file in Pennsylvania:

    Agency:Pennsylvania Department of State - Bureau of Charitable Organizations
    Exemptions:

    If your nonprofit is soliciting contributions from Pennsylvania residents, it must register unless it meets one of the exemptions. The most common exemptions are: 

    • Gross national contributions of <$25,000 annually
    • Type of organization:
      • religious institution
      • accreditied educational institution
      • parent teacher association
      • Law enforcement, firefighters, or public safety organization
      • Hospital
      • Public, nonprofit library organizations

    For the full list of exemptions, please see Pennsylvania’s exclusions or exemptions chart. Note that if your organization is based in Pennsylvania, it may still be required to file an Institutions of Purely Public Charity Statement.

    Form:

    Form BCO-10: Charitable Organization Registration Statement

    Instructions:

    Instructions for Registering

    Filing method:

    Mail

    State fee:

    $15-250, depending on gross contributions

    Law:

    10 Pennsylvania Statutes, Chapter 4B, § 162.1 - 162.7

    Notes:
    • Read the exemptions chart carefully and check to see if you still need to file the Institutions of Purely Public Charity Statement.
    • Note the list of attachments that first-time registrants must attach to the application.
    • Some Pennsylvania counties and municipalities may require charities that solicit in-person to register prior to fundraising.
    URS:No

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

  14. 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.

    Pennsylvania allows qualified charities to conduct Bingo, punchboards, daily drawings, raffles and pull-tabs. Other gambling games, specifically slot machines and video poker, are not permissible.

    Law: Pennsylvania Charitable Gaming Law
    More information: Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board
    http://gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov/
    or your county.
    Form/Fee/Filing: Varies by county.
    See also: IRS Pub 3079: Tax-Exempt Organizations and Gaming


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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania nonprofit.


Paperwork
  • Form DSCB:15-5306/7102B-2: Articles of Incorporation - Nonprofit
  • Pennsylvania docketing statement
  • Pennsylvania incorporation publishing
  • Bylaws
  • IRS Form SS-4: Obtain an EIN
  • IRS Form 1023: 501(c) Tax Exempt Application
  • IRS Determination Letter
  • Form PA-100: Enterprise Registration Form
  • Form REV-72: Sales Tax Exemption Application
  • URS Charitable Registration, if applicable
  • Form BCO-10: Charitable Organization Registration Statement, if not exempt

Cost
  • Incorporation: $125
  • Incorporation publishing: ~$200
  • EIN: $0
  • 501(c): $400 or $850 IRS fee
  • PA-100: $0 + fees for needed licenses
  • Pennsylvania Charitable Registration: usually $0 due to exemption

Time
  • Incorporation: ~14 business days
  • EIN: Immediately online
  • 501(c): 2 weeks to 3 months
  • PA-100: varies based on needed tax accounts/licenses

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This page was last fact-checked March 29, 2016.

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