1. Consider that accomplishing all the steps to starting a nonprofit generally takes from three to nine months or more
Status depends on how long the IRS and California Franchise Tax Board take to review your application for tax exemption. The cost is $400-925 or more in filing fees, not including any professional fees for an attorney or accountant.
2. Read the free booklet
This booklet takes you step-by-step through the California incorporation and the IRS filings. The booklet answers many of your questions about the process of starting a nonprofit organization.
- Please note, “Get Ready…”, does not include the updated fee schedule: January 2010 User Fees, which must be paid with an exemption application, increased. Organizations whose gross receipts average less than $10,000 per year will pay $400. Others pay $850.
3. Attend the seminars and trainings at OneOC.
- Starting a New Nonprofit: The Reality Checklist Forming a nonprofit 501c3 in California is not as easy as you may think. Attend this class and come away with an understanding of the steps involved and where the resources are to help you make informed decisions. (Generally offered every other month.)
- Courses and Calendar: Check out for more courses!
4. Obtain a copy of How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation in California.
Mancuso, Anthony. 13th edition: Nolo Press, 2009.
This book comes with a CD that includes all necessary forms and is considered the go-to reference for starting a nonprofit in California. It is available for purchase online from Amazon, or most other internet book retailers.
5. Register with the California Secretary of State’s office as a nonprofit corporation.
California Secretary of State
Business Programs Division
1500 11th Street, 3rd floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday
For an overview of laws in California applicable to tax exempt organizations, including filing requirements, see:
For sample articles of incorporation to be filed with the California Secretary of State and other information on starting a nonprofit corporation in California, see:
6. Request employer identification number
To apply to the IRS for exempt status, 501c3, you’ll need to first incorporate and request an employer identification number (EIN), even if you do not have any employees. See Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Number, and its related instructions to learn how to obtain an EIN. You may also obtain an EIN via telephone, by calling 1-800-829-4933, or by applying online.
7. Apply to the IRS with the 1023 Form
The IRS also has a customer service department for nonprofit organizations—pick up Form 1023 at your local IRS office or reach their Tax Exempt specialists by calling (877) 829-5500.
See Application Process for a step-by-step review of what an organization needs to know and to do in order to apply for recognition by the IRS of tax-exempt status. Frequently asked questions about applying for exemption generally, and Form 1023 specifically, are also available.
Organizations whose gross receipts average less than $10,000 per year will pay $400. Others pay $850. When the Cyber Assistant becomes available (see below), applicants who use it will be eligible for a reduced User Fee of $200.
The IRS has been developing Cyber-Assistant, a Web-based software program, designed to help 501(c)(3) applicants file a complete and accurate application for exemption (Form 1023) and improve the quality and consistency of exemption applications. Unfortunately, software testing has revealed some problems requiring correction prior to public launch, and the IRS must delay the release of Cyber-Assistant beyond this calendar year. Accordingly, the IRS will continue to accept and process all applications using our existing processes and the current user fees will remain in effect for this calendar year.
8. Consider Fiscal Sponsorship
Starting a nonprofit and gaining 501c(3) tax-exempt status on your own is time-consuming and can be expensive, as is developing the administrative, legal, and financial operations necessary to build and grow a nonprofit. Fiscal sponsorship saves projects time and money by providing tax-exempt status and a shared administrative services. You can become a project as an interim step before creating your own 501c(3) organization, or like some of our projects, you can benefit from the efficiencies and cost savings of our shared platform for an extended period of time.