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District of Columbia Nonprofit Service We’re Just Not Annoying®

How to Start a Nonprofit in the District of Columbia

To incorporate a nonprofit in the District of Columbia, file nonprofit Articles of Incorporation with the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). This filing will officially create your nonprofit corporation, but it is really just one step toward pursuing your goals. The main steps to forming a Washington, DC nonprofit are as follows:

  1. File nonprofit Articles of Incorporation
  2. Get a Federal EIN Tax ID
  3. Hold your organizational meeting and adopt bylaws
  4. Register for DC Tax Accounts
  5. Apply for federal and/or DC tax exemptions
  6. Get a DC Basic Business License
  7. Register as a charity
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Documents & Forms

How to File DC Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation

To form a Washington, DC nonprofit, file nonprofit Articles of Incorporation using the following steps:
Step 1 Choose a name for your new nonprofit
Step 2 Determine if your nonprofit will have members
Step 3 Decide if you want to hire a registered agent service to minimize public disclosures
Step 4 Provide the name and address of at least one incorporator who will sign and date your articles
Step 5 If your nonprofit will seek 501(c) tax-exempt status, modify your articles to include the specific tax-exempt language required by the IRS
Step 6 File online at the DCRA website; mail your documents to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs / Corporations Division / PO Box 92300 / Washington, DC 20090; or deliver your articles in person to 1100 4th Street SW / Washington, DC 20090

How Long Does it Take to Start a DC Nonprofit?

1

Same Day

Pay a $100 expedite fee, file your articles in person or online, and expect a response that day.

3

Three Days

File online, pay a $50 expedite fee, and you should get a response within three business days.

15+

15 days or more

Avoid the expedite fees and submit online or by mail. If you submit online, you should expect a response in around 15 days. If you submit by mail, it could take 15 days or more.

How Much Does It Cost To Start A DC Nonprofit?

The basic filing fee to incorporate a Washington, DC nonprofit is $80, but the DCRA offers several expedite options and filing methods. Filers who submit online or by mail can pay either $80 for 15-day standard processing or $150 for 3-day processing. Online and in person filers have the additional option of paying a $100 expedite fee for same day processing. Hire Northwest to form your nonprofit, and your total, which includes a full year of registered agent service, is $305 for standard filing, $355 for 3-day filing, and $405 for same-day filing.

Expect to pay additional fees if your nonprofit registers as a charity (with some exceptions), applies for a DC Basic Business License, or seeks 501(c) federal tax-exempt status from the IRS.

How Much Does It Cost To Maintain A DC Nonprofit?

Your DC nonprofit will pay $80 one year after incorporating to file the DC two-year report (also called a biennial report), and then $80 every two years after that. Most nonprofits that solicit charitable contributions will also need to renew their charitable registration each year and pay $412.50 in combined fees each time.

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What Is The District Of Columbia Two-Year Report?

The District of Columbia requires nonprofits to update contact and ownership information every two years by filing Form BRA-25 (the Two-Year Report for Domestic & Foreign Filing Entity). This is a one page form that confirms or updates basic information about your nonprofit, including its name, registered agent information, a specific description of your nonprofit’s activities, and the names, titles, and addresses of your nonprofit’s governors (among other details). Your first biennial report is due by April 1st of the calendar year following the year of your nonprofit’s incorporation, and you’ll submit all subsequent reports every two years after that (also by April 1st each time). The filing fee is always $80, but DC charges an additional $50 fee for reports filed after the deadline.

When you hire Northwest, we will send you timely reminders to file your nonprofit’s biennial report, but you can also sign up for our convenient DC Biennial Report Service and let Northwest file your biennial reports for you.

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Will My District of Columbia Nonprofit Be Tax-Exempt?

Unfortunately, “nonprofit” doesn’t automatically mean “tax-exempt,” but there are ways to achieve tax-exempt status for your nonprofit. At the federal level, you will need to submit the Application for Recognition of Exemption to the IRS (form 1023, 1023-EZ, or 1024), pay either $275 or $600 depending on your nonprofit’s size and structure, and wait around 3-6 months while the IRS examines your nonprofit’s purpose and structure. The IRS currently recognizes more than two dozen types of exempt organizations, but nonprofits commonly seek 501(c)(3) status for public charities and private foundations. If your nonprofit intends to seek 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, its articles of incorporation need to include specific language required by the IRS that limits your nonprofit’s activities exclusively to the pursuit of one or more tax-exempt purposes.

If your District of Columbia nonprofit manages to obtain 501(c)(3) status, you can apply to the DC Office of Tax and Revenue for exemptions from the DC income and franchise tax, sales and use tax, and personal property tax. Learn more at Northwest’s DC nonprofit tax exemptions page.

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Is A DC Nonprofit Registered Agent Required?

Yes, the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) requires nonprofits to appoint and maintain a District of Columbia registered agent. You’re allowed to take on the job yourself or appoint a third-party, but, in either case, your nonprofit’s registered agent must list a District of Columbia street address on your articles of incorporation and actually be at that address during normal business hours.

We don’t recommend doing the job yourself. Trying to manage and grow a nonprofit while performing the role of a registered agent is simply too impractical. Whatever the daily management of your nonprofit turns out to be like—leading meetings, for instance, or soliciting contributions and traveling to meet with potential donors—you likely won’t be able to stay at your desk reliably enough to always be there if someone knocks on your door with a legal notice. Moreover, the address you list goes into the public record because it appears on your nonprofit’s articles of incorporation, so you’ll likely deal with excessive junk mail and solicitors popping up at your office door.

A better option? Hire a company like Northwest that specializes in registered agent services. We have the infrastructure and technology in place to scan and send you any service of process on the day we receive it, and we also allow our clients to list our DC address on the articles of incorporation.

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What Is The DC Certificate Of Occupancy?

If your nonprofit is located within the District of Columbia you will need to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy, a document that describes what a piece of land, building, or structure can be used for in the District of Columbia. The application process typically involves an official inspection of the building or location to ensure that it can safely support the business your nonprofit intends to carry out there, and you’ll need a Certificate of Occupancy even if your nonprofit operates out of someone’s home. The application fee varies based on the location’s square footage. (However, nonprofits operating out of an individual’s home must apply for a Home Occupation Permit instead.)

To apply, download the Certificate of Occupancy application from the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affair’s website, and submit your application in person to the DCRA’s Permit Center at 1100 4th Street SW, Second Floor. You will need to include your nonprofit’s Certificate of Occupancy as an attachment when you apply for a DC Basic Business License.

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Do I Need A Tax ID Number (EIN) For A DC nonprofit?

Yes, an employer identification number (FEIN or EIN) is a must for any new nonprofit corporation in the District of Columbia. You will need an EIN to apply for federal and DC tax exemptions, to open a bank account for your nonprofit, and to navigate your nonprofit’s finances more generally. Your nonprofit’s EIN, in other words, is a lot like an individual’s social security number.

After the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs approves your articles of incorporation, you can apply for an EIN on the IRS website, by fax, or by phone. Or, if you don’t want to deal with the IRS (and who does?), you can sign up for our EIN service for an additional fee when you hire Northwest.

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Does A District of Columbia Nonprofit Need A Business License?

Yes, all DC nonprofits must apply to the DCRA for a Basic Business License, but there are two options available depending on the nature of your nonprofit. Nonprofits that won’t solicit charitable contributions pay $324.50 in combined fees to apply for the DC Basic Business License in the General Category. Charitable nonprofits, on the other hand, pay $412.50 in combined fees to apply for the DC Business License for the Charitable Solicitation Category (also called a Charitable Solicitation License). As soon as a charitable nonprofit receives its DC Charitable Solicitation License, it can file the Unified Registration Statement (URS) with the DCRA. In both cases, your nonprofit’s license will be valid for two years, and you’ll renew your registration every two years by the end of the month preceding your registration month (so if you registered as a charity in September, you’ll renew your registration by the last day of August every two years).

If your nonprofit applies for a Charitable Solicitation License, your application must include the following important additions (among other items):

1. A Clean Hands Self-Certification (basically, a document stating that your nonprofit doesn’t owe the District of Columbia more than $100 and hence has “clean hands”)

2. Your federal tax ID number (FEIN or EIN)

3. Your nonprofit’s Certificate of Occupancy or Home Occupation Permit

4. A copy of your IRS Determination Letter acknowledging your nonprofit’s tax-exempt status

5. A Certified Resolution (a state form, which must be signed by a notary, on which your nonprofit authorizes one of its corporate officers to apply for a Charitable Solicitation License)

Do I Have To Register My Nonprofit As A Charity In DC?

If your nonprofit solicits (or intends to solicits) charitable contributions from the public, apply for government grants, or otherwise operate as a charitable organization, you’ll need to register as a charity with the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). Learn more at our guide to registering as a DC charity.

Does My Nonprofit Need DC Tax Accounts?

Yes, your nonprofit needs to register for tax accounts by filing Form FR-500 with the District of Columbia Office of Tax and Revenue. This is a basic requirement even if your organization obtains 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt status and intends to seek exemptions from DC taxes.

Can I Register An Out Of State Nonprofit In Washington, DC?

If your nonprofit was formed outside of Washington, DC, you still operate in the District of Columbia if you file the appropriate paperwork. This includes filing the Foreign Registration Statement (Form FN-1) with the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, getting a Certificate of Good Standing from your home state, and registering as a DC charity (if applicable). Learn more at our guide to DC foreign nonprofits.

Does A DC Nonprofit Need Bylaws?

Absolutely. The District of Columbia requires nonprofits to write and adopt corporate bylaws, which are basically an organization’s internal rules, and your nonprofit should do so at least by its first official meeting. Why? Because without bylaws your nonprofit can’t apply to the IRS for federal tax-exempt status and can’t apply for a Basic Business License and register as a charity with the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The IRS and the DCRA only want to deal with a fully-formed nonprofit corporation.

But the importance of bylaws extends well beyond mere government regulations. The true importance of bylaws is that they answer essential questions in advance and help directors and officers guide your organization along a unified, cohesive path. Will your nonprofit be member-managed or director-managed? What are the responsibilities of each officer? What happens if your nonprofit needs to suspend a member? (And so on.)

Of course, it isn’t easy to write effective bylaws, but Northwest is here to help. Hire Northwest to form your DC nonprofit, and you’ll benefit from our nonprofit forms to help your organization start out strong and stay strong.

District of Columbia Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation Requirements

Corporation Name

The name of your DC nonprofit cannot be deceptively similar or the same as another entity’s name on file. You can reserve your nonprofit’s name if you wish by filing a Name Reservation Registration and Transfer Form and mailing it to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Members

Identify if your nonprofit will or will not have members. Members typically have the right to vote for directors and delegates, but any nonprofit with members should provide a detailed description of their rights, responsibilities, and limitations in the corporate bylaws. The District of Columbia does not require nonprofit corporations to have members.

Incorporation Under Title 29 Chapter 4

The form includes a prewritten statement to the effect that your nonprofit “is incorporated as a nonprofit corporation under DC Code Title 29 Chapter 4,” which basically means that your nonprofit’s purpose and activities satisfies the terms of the law in the District of Columbia. No action is required on this section of the form.

Registered Agent’s Name and Address

Your registered agent is just the person or business you appointed to receive services of process on behalf of your nonprofit. You must list a DC street address as your agent’s registered office. When you hire Northwest, our name and DC street address go here.

Misc. Provisions

The District of Columbia’s form provides space (though not much) for additional, optional provisions, and you can also add attachments as needed. If your nonprofit intends to seek 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS, make sure to include the specific tax-exempt language required by the IRS.

Incorporator’s Name and Address

An incorporator is someone signs and submits your nonprofit’s articles of incorporation. An incorporator doesn’t need to be a director, officer, or member of your nonprofit, but incorporators must be willing to list their names and addresses on the form (which, of course, goes into the public record). Hire Northwest to form your District of Columbia nonprofit, and we’ll be your incorporator.

Corporate Compliance
by Local Corporate Guides®