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How To Start A Nonprofit In Montana

To start a nonprofit corporation in Montana, you must file nonprofit articles of incorporation with the Montana Secretary of State online at The articles of incorporation cost $20 to file. Once filed with the state, your articles of incorporation officially create your Montana nonprofit corporation, but truly preparing a nonprofit to pursue its mission involves several additional steps.


Montana Nonprofit Filing Options

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Montana Articles of Incorporation free download. This form is an example; the state has recently switched to an all-online filing system.

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MT Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation Requirements

To incorporate a Montana nonprofit, you must complete and file nonprofit articles of incorporation with the Montana Secretary of State. Most of Montana’s business gets conducted online these days, so you’ll need to register for a Montana ePass account at the Secretary of State’s website. It’s free to register.

Below, you’ll find a list of Montana’s requirements for nonprofit articles of incorporation, as well as a sample document (for comparison) from before Montana switched to an all-online filing system. 

1. Handling Option

Select standard processing ($20 fee), 24 hour priority handling (for an additional $20 expedite fee), or 1-hour expedite handling (for an additional $100 fee).

2. Effective Date

Complete this section only if your nonprofit needs to delay its effective date (its “start date”). Otherwise, your nonprofit’s effective date will be the same as the day on which the Secretary of State files your articles of incorporation.

3. Corporate Type

Select a corporate type and indicate if your nonprofit will have members. There are several options to choose from: public benefit, mutual benefit, religious corporation, and a Congressional chartered corporation, and each option may or may not have members. A member is an individual or corporate entity that can vote for delegates or vote in the election of your nonprofit’s board of directors.

4. Proposed Name

Your nonprofit’s name can’t be misleading as to its purpose and must be distinguishable from other organizations on record with the Montana Secretary of State (including reserved names and the names of recently dissolved organizations).

5. Registered Agent

Your nonprofit’s registered agent is the individual or business authorized to receive services of process on its behalf. You’ll select between an “Existing Agent” and a “New Agent.” If you’re using an existing agent—which just means a registered agent already operating in Montana—you’ll simply list the agent’s name. If you’re going with a new agent, you’ll list the registered agent’s name, Montana street address, city, state, postal code, and email address.

6. Business Mailing Address

Your nonprofit’s business address is the address of its principal place of business. When you hire Northwest, you can list our Montana street address in place of yours on the articles of incorporation.

7. Term

Your nonprofit’s “term” refers to the number of years your nonprofit intends to operate, and you have three options: “perpetual,” “future date,” and “number of years.” If your nonprofit doesn’t have an end in sight, select “perpetual” (which is already pre-selected anyway). Otherwise, you can select a specific end date or a specific number of years.

8. Purpose

You can include a brief description of your nonprofit’s purpose, which isn’t required by the state, or you can attach the statement of purpose required by the IRS if your nonprofit intends to seek 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt status.

9. Tribal Designation

If your nonprofit is a tribal business, select the relevant designation from the menu.

10. 501(c)(3) Status

Indicate if your nonprofit will or will not seek 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt status from the IRS. If not, describe how your nonprofit will distribute its assets upon dissolution (a mutual benefit corporation, for example, has the right to distribute its assets to its members upon dissolution, but this isn’t true of public benefit corporations). If your nonprofit will seek 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, attach the provisions required by the IRS when you come to the “Documents” page on your application.

11. Incorporator(s)

Include the name and address of at least one incorporator. When you hire Northwest to form your nonprofit, we’ll be your incorporator.

12. Initial Directors

You have the option to include the names and mailing addresses of your nonprofit’s initial directors.

13. Bylaws

You have the option to upload a copy of your nonprofit’s bylaws as part of the application process.

14. Signature(s) and Daytime Contact

At least one incorporator must sign, date, and submit your nonprofit’s articles of incorporation. Include a phone number and email address the Montana Secretary of State’s office can use to contact you if it has any questions.

How Much Does It Cost to Incorporate a Montana Nonprofit?

Montana charges $20 to file nonprofit articles of incorporation, but the state offers various expedite options as well ($100 extra for 1-hour processing and $20 extra for 24-hour processing).

How Long Does It Take to Start a Montana Nonprofit?

Once your articles have been submitted, it’ll take around five days for a response from the state. You can also pay an additional $100 for 1-hour processing or an additional $20 for 24-hour processing.

Does a Montana Nonprofit Need a Registered Agent?

Yes, you’re required to appoint a Montana registered agent for your nonprofit. A registered agent is an individual or business authorized to receive services of process (legal notices) on behalf of your nonprofit. You can do the job yourself, appoint someone you know, or hire a registered agent service like Northwest. A corporation, however, cannot serve as its own registered agent.

For numerous reasons, we recommend hiring a registered agent service. Why? Because a registered agent has to be available during normal business hours at a Montana street address listed on your nonprofit’s articles of incorporation. If you list your own residential or office address, you’ll get targeted by data-sellers, have a mailbox full of junk mail, and likely have to deal with unwanted solicitors showing up at your door. You’ll also be tied to your desk all day during business hours, which won’t be easy for someone trying to manage and grow a new nonprofit.

A better option? Hire Northwest as your Montana registered agent. Your articles of incorporation can list our Montana street address in place of yours, and you can leave it to us to wait all day for services of process that may never come. Hiring Northwest means greater privacy protections and the freedom to run your nonprofit on your own time from anywhere in the world.


Get a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN)

A federal employer identification number (FEIN or EIN) is usually a must for any nonprofit applying for federal tax-exempt status, trying to open a bank account, and attempting to establish relationships with donors and vendors (among many other financial responsibilities). After the Montana Secretary of State approves your articles of incorporation, you can apply for an EIN on the IRS website. Or you can pay an additional fee and simply add our EIN service when you hire Northwest.


Hold Your Organizational Meeting & Adopt Bylaws

Montana requires a nonprofit corporation to adopt bylaws at its organizational meeting. This is your first official meeting, held shortly after incorporating, at which you ratify your nonprofit’s bylaws and elect your nonprofit’s officers and directors. Make sure to adopt your bylaws before applying for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, since the IRS only wants to deal with a fully-formed nonprofit. Montana also gives you the option to include your nonprofit’s bylaws as an attachment when filing your articles of incorporation online, so it might be worthwhile to hold your organizational meeting in advance of filing.

It isn’t easy to write effective bylaws, but Northwest is here to help. We have a lot of experience working directly with the nonprofit sector, and we have a pretty good sense for the types of issues and problems a nonprofit corporation is likely to face. When you hire Northwest, you can use our adaptable template for writing nonprofit bylaws to help get you started, as well as the numerous free nonprofit forms Northwest provides. Why? The answer is simple: we want you to come back year after year to renew our registered agent service, so we want your nonprofit to start successfully and stay successful. Feel free to use our attorney-drafted nonprofit bylaws template to get started today!


Apply for Federal and/or State Tax Exemptions

To get federal tax-exempt status for nonprofit, you’ll need to seek recognition from the IRS as a tax-exempt entity under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code. This is the code that describes the various types of tax-exempt organizations recognized by the federal government, consisting of more than two dozen categories, but most nonprofits seeks 501(c)(3) status for public charities and private foundations. If your nonprofit intends to go this route, you should prepare in advance. To qualify as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit, your articles of organization must include a statement of purpose and dissolution of assets provision using the specific tax-exempt language required by the IRS.

The application process involves submitting an Application for Recognition of Exemption to the IRS (form 1023, 1023-EZ, or 1024), paying a $275 or $600 fee based on the size and nature of your nonprofit, and enduring a rigorous 3-6 month application process in which the IRS closely examines your formation documents, bylaws, finances, purpose, and history. Success means that your nonprofit won’t have to pay the federal corporate income tax, along with gaining access to numerous other financial perks available only to tax-exempt entities.

If your nonprofit manages to qualify as a 501(c)(3) organization, you can then apply for the available state tax exemptions. Montana already doesn’t have a state sales tax, but you’ll need to submit a Tax-Exempt Status Request Form for Income Taxes (form EXPT) to the Montana Department of Revenue if you’d like to avoid the state’s corporate income tax, just make sure to apply only after you receive an IRS determination letter. Your organization might also be eligible for certain property tax exemptions. Learn more at Northwest’s guide to Montana state tax exemptions.


Register for Required State Licenses

Does a Montana Nonprofit Need a Business License?

Montana doesn’t require a statewide business license for nonprofits, but specific cities and counties may have their own requirements. Contact your local city clerk’s office to learn if your nonprofit needs to purchase and maintain any local licenses or permits.

How Does a Nonprofit Register for Montana Tax Accounts?

If your nonprofit will have employees, you’ll need to register for the Montana withholding tax with the Montana Department of Revenue, and you might need to register to pay other taxes depending on the nature of your nonprofit’s activities. To register submit a Montana Department of Revenue Business Registration by mail, by fax, or online at the department’s website.

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

No. Montana doesn’t require charities to register with the Office of the Attorney General or any other agency before soliciting donations or otherwise operating in the state.


Open a Bank Account for Your Montana Nonprofit

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

  • A copy of your Montana nonprofit articles of incorporation
  • A copy of your nonprofit’s bylaws
  • Your Montana 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 the Montana Nonprofit Annual Report

Montana requires nonprofits to submit an annual report by April 15th each year. The report updates or confirms your organization’s information on the state’s records, including your corporate name, information about your organization’s current management, and your registered agent information (among other details). The report comes with a $20 filing fee for routine processing, which might take up to a week or so, but you can pay an additional $100 for 1-hour processing or $20 for 24-hour processing.

You can file your annual report online at the Montana Secretary of State’s website. Or you can sign up for our convenient Montana Annual Report Service when you hire Northwest.