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How To Start A Nonprofit In North Carolina

To start a nonprofit corporation in North Carolina, you must file nonprofit articles of incorporation with the North Carolina Secretary of State. You can submit your nonprofit’s articles by mail or submit a scanned copy online. The North Carolina nonprofit articles of incorporation cost $60 to file (plus a $2 electronic transaction fee). Once filed with the state, your articles of incorporation officially create your North Carolina nonprofit corporation, but truly preparing a nonprofit to pursue its mission involves several additional steps.


North Carolina Nonprofit Filing Options

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Download the North Carolina nonprofit articles of incorporation. Fill out the form and submit to the state.

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Our free account and tools will walk you through starting and maintaining a North Carolina nonprofit. All for free.

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NC Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation Requirements

To incorporate a North Carolina nonprofit, you must complete and file nonprofit articles of incorporation with the North Carolina Secretary of State. See the document below and click on any number to see what information is required in the corresponding section.

Compliance with N.C. Gen Stat §  84-2.2:

An attorney licensed to practice law in the State of North Carolina has reviewed the blank template offered on our website to North Carolina consumers, including each and every part thereof that may appear in the completed document. The name and address of the reviewing attorney is kept on file by Northwest Registered Agent Service, Inc and will be provided to the consumer upon request.

The forms or templates provided by Northwest Registered Agent Service, Inc (“Northwest”) are not a substitute for the advice or services of an attorney.

Northwest does not disclaim any warranties or liability and does not limit the recovery of damages or other remedies by the consumer. Northwest does not require the consumer to agree to jurisdiction or venue in any state other than North Carolina for the resolution of disputes between the provider and the consumer.

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1. Name

Your nonprofit’s name can’t be misleading or deceptively similar to the names of other organizations operating in North Carolina. You can check the Register of Deeds office for similar names, or you can contact the NC Secretary of State to check that your name is available and doesn’t contain any restricted language.

2. Exempt Status

Your Articles should identify whether or not your organization qualifies as either a charitable or religious corporation. North Carolina uses the term “charitable or religious corporation” to refer to nonprofits organized exclusively to pursue one or more exempt purposes described under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Basically, then, your Articles need to specify if your nonprofit is the kind of organization that intends to seek 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the IRS. If this is true of your nonprofit, you can check the box on the form. If not, you can leave the box blank.

3. Registered Agent

Your registered agent is the individual or business authorized to accept legal notices and other official state mail on behalf of your nonprofit. Hire Northwest, and we’ll serve as your nonprofit’s registered agent.

4. Registered Office

Your nonprofit’s registered office is the North Carolina street address (no PO boxes!) where your registered agent is available during normal business hours. Hire Northwest, and our North Carolina address goes here.

5. Incorporator(s)

An incorporator is just a person who signs and submits your nonprofit’s Articles. North Carolina requires at least one incorporator, but this doesn’t need to be one of your nonprofit’s members, directors, or officers. All documents have been reviewed by a licensed North Carolina attorney. Tip: We’ll be your incorporator when you hire us to form your North Carolina corporation.

6. Members

Your Articles should specify whether or not your nonprofit will have members.

7. Dissolution

Attach a detailed description of how your nonprofit will distribute its assets if and when it ever shuts down (often called a “dissolution clause”). If your nonprofit intends to apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the IRS, be sure your dissolution clause includes the specific language the IRS requires.

8. Optional Provisions

You may then attach additional provisions consistent with North Carolina law. These attachments may include, for instance, a purpose clause using the specific language required by the IRS for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations.

9. Principal Office

Include the street address and mailing address (if different) for your nonprofit’s principal place of business. If you hire Northwest to be your registered agent, you can list our North Carolina street address here.

10. Listing of Officers

You then have the option to include the names, titles, and addresses of your nonprofit’s officers.

11. Business Email

Include a business email if you want to receive a notification from the state each time a state document gets filed on behalf of your nonprofit (the idea behind this option is to help combat identity theft). Your email will not appear publicly on the North Carolina Secretary of State’s website.

12. Effective Date

Leave this section blank if you want your nonprofit’s effective date to be the same as the date on which the state files your Articles of Incorporation. North Carolina allows nonprofits to delay their effective dates up to 90 days after filing.

How Much Does It Cost to Incorporate a North Carolina Nonprofit?

North Carolina charges a $60 base filing fee to form a nonprofit corporation, plus a $2 convenience fee if you file online and pay with a credit card.

How Long Does It Take to Incorporate a North Carolina Nonprofit?

Standard state process is about 12 business days once your documents have been received. You can also pay an additional $200 for same-day processing or $100 for 24-hour processing.

Does a North Carolina Nonprofit Need a Registered Agent?

Yes, you’re required to appoint a North Carolina registered agent for your nonprofit. Your registered agent can be an individual (such as yourself or a willing friend), or you can hire an organization that provides a registered agent service.

Doing the job yourself will save a little money, of course, but it also comes with a lot of headaches. You’ll have to list a physical address to receive legal notices, which becomes part of the public record, and you’ll have to be available at that address during normal business hours. Furthermore, your nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation will list your address, which then goes into the public record, so you’ll likely have to deal with excessive junk mail and unwanted solicitors showing up at your door.

Northwest’s registered agent service can help. When you hire Northwest, our address can appear in place of yours on your Articles of Incorporation, so we’ll be the ones tied to our desks, not you. You’ll have more privacy, receive less junk mail, and have the freedom to manage and grow your nonprofit on your own terms. If and when we receive official state mail on your behalf, we’ll scan it and send it to you on the day we receive it.


Get a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN)

A federal employer identification number (FEIN or EIN) is a must for any North Carolina nonprofit. You’ll need an EIN to open a bank account in your nonprofit’s name, to apply to the IRS for federal tax-exempt status, and to otherwise effectively navigate your nonprofit’s finances. After the North Carolina Secretary of State approves your nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation, you can apply for an EIN on the IRS website, by fax, or by mail. Or, if you don’t want to deal with the IRS, you can add on our convenient EIN service for an additional fee when you hire Northwest.


Hold Your Organizational Meeting & Adopt Bylaws

North Carolina requires your nonprofit to write and approve bylaws, but the truth is your nonprofit would need bylaws even if they weren’t required by the state. Bylaws are, after all, the place where your nonprofit spells out its internal rules, and it would be tough to make critical collective decisions without them. How will you select board members? How long will their positions last? How will directors get replaced? What are the different officers’ duties? What procedures will meetings follow? (And so on!) To form an efficient nonprofit, these essential rules and procedures need to be defined in advance.

Your North Carolina nonprofit bylaws should be adopted at its first official meeting, which usually takes place shortly after filing Articles of Incorporation with the state. Moreover, if your nonprofit intends to seek 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the IRS, be sure to hold your organizational meeting and ratify your bylaws before applying. The North Carolina Department of Revenue will also expect to see your bylaws if and when you apply for state tax exemptions.

It isn’t easy to write bylaws, but Northwest is here to help. When you hire us to form your North Carolina nonprofit, we provide a free adaptable template for writing nonprofit bylaws to help get you started. Why? Because we want your returning business year after year, and that means we want you to start successful and stay successful. Your success, after all, is our success.


Apply for Federal and/or State Tax Exemptions

To obtain exemptions from federal taxes, you must submit an Application for Recognition of Exemption (Form 1023, 1023-EZ, or 1024) to the IRS, a lengthy form meant to prove that your nonprofit qualifies as an exempt organization. Currently, the IRS recognizes just over two dozen different types of exempt organizations under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code, but most nonprofits apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, which applies to public charities and private foundations. If your nonprofit intends to seek 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, your Articles of Incorporation should include specific language required by the IRS stating that your nonprofit is organized exclusively (and perpetually) for one or more recognized exempt purposes.

Most nonprofits that qualify for federal tax-exempt status are also exempt from the North Carolina corporate income tax and franchise tax, but to apply for these exemptions you’ll need to submit your IRS determination letter, Articles of Incorporation, and bylaws to the North Carolina Department of Revenue. Fortunately, the North Carolina Department of Revenue will actually reach out to your nonprofit shortly after the state files your Articles of Incorporation by sending you a 6-part questionnaire to help determine your nonprofit’s eligibility for North Carolina state tax exemptions.


Register for Required State Licenses

Will My North Carolina Nonprofit Need a Business License?

North Carolina doesn’t require a general state business license for nonprofits or any other type of business, but certain business activities (such as selling beer and wine) require permits.

Should My North Carolina Nonprofit Register as a Charity?

If your nonprofit will solicit funds in North Carolina, you will likely need to register as a charity with the Secretary of State’s Charitable Solicitation Licensing Division. You can complete the North Carolina Charity Registration by filing a Solicitation License Application. The fee initial fee and annual renewal fee vary from $0-$200 depending on your nonprofit’s annual contributions (or its projected annual contributions for new nonprofits).

Here is how the potential initial and renewal fees break down:

  1. Less than $5,000 in annual contributions received: no fee
  2. $5,000 – $99,999 in annual contributions received: $50 fee
  3. $100,000 – $199,999 in annual contributions received: $100 fee
  4. $200,000 or more in annual contributions: $200 fee

To learn more, visit Northwest’s guide to registering a charity in North Carolina.


Open a Bank Account for Your NC Nonprofit

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

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