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How To Start A Nonprofit In Washington DC

To start a nonprofit corporation in Washington DC, begin by filing Articles of Incorporation with the Department of Licensing & Consumer Protection (DLCP). You can file this document in person, by mail, or online. The articles of incorporation cost $80 to file. Once filed with the state, the articles of incorporation officially create your District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, but truly preparing your nonprofit to pursue its mission involves several additional steps.


Washington DC Nonprofit Filing Options

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Download the District of Columbia nonprofit articles of incorporation. Fill out the form and submit to the state.

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DC Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation Requirements

To incorporate a Washington DC nonprofit, you must complete and file nonprofit articles of incorporation with the District of Columbia Department of Licensing & Consumer Protection. See the document below and click on any number to see what information is required in the corresponding section.

1. Corporation Name

The name of your District of Columbia nonprofit cannot be the same as (or too closely resemble) the name of another entity on file with the Department of Licensing & Consumer Protection. You can reserve your nonprofit’s name, if you wish, by filing a Name Reservation Registration and Transfer Form with the DLCP.

2. 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.

3. Incorporation Under Title 29 Chapter 4

The form already includes a 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. If you prepare your own articles of incorporation, however, be sure to include this article word-for-word.

4. 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 Washington DC, street address go here.

5. 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.

6. 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 goes into the public record). Hire Northwest to form your District of Columbia nonprofit, and we’ll be your incorporator.

How Much Does It Cost to Incorporate a Washington DC Nonprofit?

The basic filing fee to incorporate a Washington DC nonprofit is $80, but the DLCP offers several expediting options and filing methods. Filers who submit online or by mail can pay either $80 for 15-day standard processing or $130 for 3-day processing. Online and in-person filers have the additional option of paying a $180 for same day processing.

How Long Does It Take to Start a District of Columbia Nonprofit?

The District of Columbia’s standard processing time for nonprofit articles of incorporation is around 15 business days. If you’re willing to pay for the available expedite options (see the section above), you can get your articles processed in 3 business days or within one business day.

Does a Washington DC Nonprofit Need a Registered Agent?

Yes, the Department of Licensing & Consumer Protection (DLCP) 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 a process server arrives with a legal notice in hand. 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 District of Columbia address on the articles of incorporation.


Get a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN)

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 District of Columbia tax exemptions, to open a bank account for your nonprofit, and to navigate your nonprofit’s finances generally. Your nonprofit’s EIN, in other words, is a lot like an individual’s social security number.

After the Department of Licensing & Consumer Protection approves your articles of incorporation, you can apply for an EIN on the IRS website. Or, if you don’t want to deal with the IRS (and who does?), you can sign up for convenient EIN service, for an additional $50 fee, when you hire Northwest.


Hold Your Organizational Meeting & Adopt Bylaws

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 Department of Licensing & Consumer Protection. The IRS and the DLCP only want to deal with a fully-formed nonprofit corporation.

But the importance of bylaws extends well beyond government regulations. The true importance of bylaws is that they answer essential questions about your nonprofit’s structure 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 Washington DC nonprofit, and you’ll benefit from our template for writing nonprofit bylaws, as well as numerous other free nonprofit forms, to help your organization start strong and stay strong.

Check out our post on some of the requirements you can expect for your Washington DC Nonprofit Board of Directors.


Apply for Federal and/or State Tax Exemptions

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 District’s Office of Tax and Revenue for exemptions from the income and franchise tax, sales and use tax, and personal property tax. Learn more at Northwest’s DC nonprofit tax exemptions page.


Apply for Required State Licenses

What Is the District of Columbia 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 Licensing & Consumer Protection’s website, and submit your application in person to the DLCP’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 the District of Columbia Charitable Solicitation License and the Basic Business License (see the paragraphs below).

Should a District of Columbia Nonprofit Register as a Charity?

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 apply for a Charitable Solicitation License with the Department of Licensing & Consumer Protection. Learn more at our guide to registering as a Washington DC charity.

Does a Washington DC Nonprofit Need a Business License?

Yes, all District of Columbia nonprofits must apply to the DLCP for a Basic Business License, but there are two options available depending on the nature of your nonprofit.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 Charitable Solicitation License, it can file the Unified Registration Statement (URS) with the DLCP. 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).

Does a District of Columbia Nonprofit Need to Register for 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 District of Columbia taxes.


Open a Bank Account for Your DC Nonprofit

To open a bank account for your Washington DC nonprofit, you will need to bring the following items with you to the bank:

  • A copy of your nonprofit’s articles of incorporation
  • A copy of your nonprofit’s bylaws
  • Your nonprofit’s EIN

It’s wise to call your ahead of time to check its requirements. Some banks may require you to bring a resolution authorizing you to open a bank account in your nonprofit’s name (particularly if your nonprofit has several directors and/or officers), and some may want to see your nonprofit’s business license.


Submit Your 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 add our District of Columbia Biennial Report Service, for an additional $180 fee, and let Northwest file your biennial reports for you.