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How To Start A Nonprofit In Iowa

To start a nonprofit corporation in Iowa, you must file nonprofit articles of incorporation with the Iowa Secretary of State. You can submit your nonprofit’s articles of incorporation online, by fax, or by mail. The articles of incorporation cost $20 to file. Once filed with the state, your articles of incorporation officially create your Iowa nonprofit corporation, but truly preparing a nonprofit to pursue its mission involves several additional steps.


Iowa Nonprofit Filing Options

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Iowa Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation requirements. When you're done creating your document, submit it to your state.

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IA Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation Requirements

To incorporate an Iowa nonprofit, you must complete and file nonprofit articles of incorporation with the Iowa Secretary of State. However, Iowa doesn’t provide a paper form that you can print and fill out. There is only an online form available when you sign up for a Fast Track Filing account at the Iowa Secretary of State’s website. Nonprofits that wish to submit their articles in person or by mail will need to prepare their own document based on the state’s requirements. We have provided an overview of those requirements below. 

1. Corporate Name

Your nonprofit’s name doesn’t need to have a corporate ending like “Corp.” or “Inc.,” but it should be distinguishable from the names of other organizations on record with the Iowa Secretary of State, and the name shouldn’t imply a purpose other than those allowed by Iowa state law or indicated by your nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation. You can run a preliminary name search at the Secretary of State’s website to find out if your nonprofit’s name is available.

2. Purpose

Iowa doesn’t require a nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation to describe the organization’s purpose, but if your nonprofit intends to seek 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt status, you’ll need to include a statement of purpose using the specific tax-exempt language required by the IRS.

3. Registered Agent and Office

Include the name and Iowa street address of your registered agent. Your registered agent is the person or business entity authorized to receive services of process for your nonprofit. Hire Northwest as your registered agent service, and our Iowa address goes here.

4. Incorporator(s)

Include the name and address of at least one incorporator. An incorporator is a person or business entity (like Northwest!) that signs and submits your Articles of Incorporation. Hire Northwest to form your Iowa nonprofit, and we’ll be your incorporator.

5. Membership

Indicate if your nonprofit will or will not have members. A member is an individual or business entity with the right to vote in the election of a nonprofit’s board of directors (among other rights and responsibilities that usually get defined in a nonprofit’s bylaws).

6. Dissolution

Iowa requires a nonprofit’s articles to describe how your nonprofit’s income and assets will get distributed if you end up closing down. If your nonprofit intends to seek 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, your dissolution clause should include the specific tax-exempt language required by the IRS. The IRS wants to know that your nonprofit will always serve public (not private) ends.

How Much Does It Cost to Incorporate an Iowa Nonprofit?

Iowa charges a $20 fee to file nonprofit Articles of Incorporation, and the fee doesn’t change for online, faxed, or mailed documents.

How Long Does It Take to Start an Iowa Nonprofit?

If you file your articles online through Iowa Fast Track Filing account, you can expect to hear back from the state within one business day. If you write your articles based on the state’s requirements and mail a printed copy to the Iowa Secretary of State, you can expect to wait at least a few weeks for a response from the state.

Is An Iowa Nonprofit Registered Agent Required?

Yes, your nonprofit Articles of Incorporation will list the name and address of an Iowa registered agent. This must be a physical address in Iowa, and your registered agent must be available at that address during normal business hours to accept service of process (legal notices). You can do the job yourself, appoint a willing friend or associate, or hire a registered agent service like Northwest.

We don’t recommend doing the job yourself. Your nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation are public documents, so your registered agent’s name and address appear in the public record. If you list your own residential or office address, you’ll get a lot of junk mail and likely have to deal with unwanted solicitors showing up at your door. A registered agent must also be available at this public address during normal business hours, so you’ll end up stuck at a desk waiting for services of process instead of holding important meetings, traveling to meet with potential donors, or otherwise working to better manage and grow your new nonprofit.

These problems disappear when you hire Northwest as your Iowa registered agent. Hire Northwest, and we’ll be the ones hanging around the office all day, not you. Our Iowa street address can also appear in place of yours on your nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation, so you get to keep your privacy, and we have the infrastructure in place to easily scan and send you any service of process on the day we receive it.


Get a Federal EIN from the IRS

Do I Need A Federal Tax ID Number (EIN) For My Iowa Nonprofit?

Your nonprofit will need a federal employer identification number (FEIN or EIN) to file tax returns with the IRS, to open a bank account, and to apply for federal and state tax exemptions (among other financial matters). After Iowa approves your nonprofit’s registration, you can apply for an EIN on the IRS website.

However, if you’d rather not deal with the IRS, you can add our EIN service for an additional fee when you hire Northwest.


Hold Your Organizational Meeting & Adopt Bylaws

Does An Iowa Nonprofit Need Bylaws?

Yes, Iowa requires your nonprofit’s board of directors to adopt bylaws, which are basically your nonprofit’s internal rules. This action should take place at your nonprofit’s first official meeting held after the Iowa Secretary of State approves your Articles of Incorporation. Additionally, if you decide to apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the IRS, you may need to provide a copy of your bylaws as part of the application, and some banks and donors may want to see your bylaws before doing business with your nonprofit.

Why Do Bylaws Matter?

Without bylaws your nonprofit’s directors, officers, and members will struggle to make the collective decisions necessary to pursue your nonprofit’s goals. How many directors must be present to hold an important vote? Who records meeting minutes? How does someone become an officer? What are the president’s specific responsibilities? (And so on!) Questions like these need clear answers in advance, and it’s the job of your bylaws to provide those answers.

It isn’t easy to write effective bylaws, but Northwest is here to help. When you hire Northwest, you can use our adaptable template for writing nonprofit bylaws, as well as numerous other free nonprofit forms, to help get you started. Also, check out our free attorney-drafted nonprofit bylaws template!


Apply for Federal and/or State Tax Exemptions

Will My Iowa Nonprofit Be Tax-Exempt?

Not automatically. First, you need to file an Application for Recognition of Exemption with the IRS. This form provides the IRS with information about your nonprofit’s structure and purpose, and the IRS uses it to decide if your nonprofit qualifies as an exempt organization. The IRS currently recognizes more than two dozen different types of exempt organizations, but most nonprofits seek 501(c)(3) status for public charities and private foundations. If your nonprofit intends to become a 501(c)(3) exempt organization, your Articles of Incorporation should include the specific language and provisions required by the IRS.

If your nonprofit qualifies for federal tax-exempt status, it is automatically exempt from the Iowa corporate income tax. However, most Iowa nonprofits still pay the state sales tax. Check out our Iowa state tax exemptions page for details.


Obtain Iowa State Business Licenses

Does An Iowa Nonprofit Need A Business License?

Iowa doesn’t issue a statewide business license, but particular cities and counties may require licenses of their own. It’s best to simply contact your local city clerk’s office to find out if any specific ordinances and licenses apply to your nonprofit’s activities.

Will My Iowa Nonprofit Need To Register For State Tax Permits?

Yes. You’ll need to submit an Iowa Business Tax Permit Registration form to the Iowa Department of Revenue to register for the state’s tax permits, including the state’s sales tax and withholding tax permits. You can register online at the Iowa Department of Revenue’s website, and there is no registration fee.

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

No. Unlike most states, Iowa does not require nonprofits to register as charities before collecting donations and doing business.


Open a Bank Account for Your Iowa Nonprofit

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

  • A copy of your Iowa nonprofit articles of incorporation
  • A copy of your nonprofit’s bylaws
  • Your Iowa 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).


Submit Your IA Nonprofit Biennial Report

Every other year, your Iowa nonprofit will file a biennial report (due April 1st) to keep your nonprofit’s information updated with the state. There is no filing fee.

Iowa requires nonprofits to submit a biennial report every odd-numbered year between January 1st and April 1st. The report updates the information about your nonprofit contained in the state’s records, including your nonprofit’s name and registered agent information (among numerous other details). You can file on paper or online, and there is no filing fee.

When you hire Northwest, we’ll make sure to send you a reminder for when to submit your nonprofit’s biennial report, but, if you’d rather bypass the hassle altogether, add our Iowa Biennial Report Service for an additional $100 filing fee.