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How To Start A Nonprofit In South Carolina

To start a nonprofit corporation in South Carolina, you must file nonprofit Articles of Incorporation with the South Carolina Secretary of State. You can submit your articles in person, by mail, or online. The articles of incorporation cost $25 to file. If you file online you'll also need to pay a $7.50 processing fee. Once filed with the state, the articles of incorporation officially create your South Carolina nonprofit corporation, but truly preparing a nonprofit to pursue its mission involves several additional steps.


South Carolina Nonprofit Filing Options

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Download the South Carolina Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation. Complete the form and submit it to your state.

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SC Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation Requirements

To incorporate a South Carolina nonprofit, you must complete and file the Articles of Incorporation, (Nonprofit Corporation – Domestic) with the South Carolina Secretary of State. There is also a specific 501(c)(3) attachment, which you should include if you file by mail, for nonprofits seeking federal tax-exempt status from the IRS. Paper filings should be filed in duplicate (but this isn’t a requirement for online filings).

See the instructions below and click on any number to see what information is required in the corresponding section of the form.

1. Name

Your South Carolina nonprofit’s name can’t be misleading, and it must be distinguishable from other business entities on record with the SC Secretary of State.

2. Initial Registered Office

Include the name and South Carolina street address of your nonprofit’s initial registered agent. A registered agent is the individual or business (like Northwest!) authorized to receive legal notifications on behalf of your nonprofit. The registered agent must also consent to the appointment by signing this section of the form.

3. Type of Nonprofit

Identify your nonprofit as a public benefit, mutual benefit, or religious corporation. (Hint: If your organization intends to seek 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, it’s probably a public benefit corporation.)

4. Members

Indicate if your South Carolina nonprofit will or will not have members.

5. Principal Office

Include the address of your nonprofit’s principal place of business. When you hire Northwest, you’ll have the option to put our address here.

6. Religious/Public Benefit

This section is for religious and public benefit corporations, and it describes how your organization will distribute its assets upon dissolution. Organizations seeking 501(c)(3) status must distribute their assets to purposes (or other entities) that serve tax-exempt purposes.

7. Mutual Benefit

This section is for mutual benefit corporations. If your organization is a mutual benefit organization, identify if it assets will get distributed to its members upon dissolution or get distributed in some other (legal) fashion.

8. Optional Provisions

Include any other provisions that you wish to include to govern your new nonprofit, so long as these provisions are consistent with South Carolina law.

9. Incorporator(s)

List the names and business addresses of your incorporators (at least one). An incorporator is simply the individual or business that submits your articles of incorporation to the state. When you hire Northwest to incorporate your nonprofit, our information goes here.

10. Directors’ Signatures

If your nonprofit’s articles include the names of its original directors, include their names and signatures here. If no directors get named in your articles, you can leave this section blank.

11. Incorporators’ Signatures

Your nonprofit’s incorporators should each then sign the form. South Carolina only requires one incorporator, and it can be a business as well as an individual.

12. Effective Date

For most businesses, the filing date and the effective date (the date of the organization’s creation) are the same. But if you wish to delay your nonprofit’s effective date, indicate the delayed effective date here.


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

South Carolina charges $25 to file nonprofit articles of incorporation. If you file online you’ll also need to pay a $7.50 processing fee.

How Long Does It Take To Start a South Carolina Nonprofit?

If you submit your articles by mail, you can expect the SC Secretary of State’s office to process your filing in around 2-3 business days (a little longer if the office is dealing with a lot of filings). But you can speed this process up to around 24 hours if you file online.

Does a South Carolina Nonprofit Need a Registered Agent?

Yes, South Carolina requires your nonprofit to appoint a South Carolina registered agent. A registered agent is simply an individual or business entity (like Northwest) authorized to accept service of process (legal notices) and other official state mail for another person or entity—in this case, your South Carolina nonprofit corporation.

You can do the job yourself, appoint a willing associate, or hire a registered agent service like Northwest. For numerous reasons (and not just selfish ones!), we recommend hiring a registered agent service. Why? Because your nonprofit’s registered agent must be available at a physical South Carolina address, during normal business hours, to greet a process server if or when one arrives. A registered agent must also list a publicly available South Carolina street address on your nonprofit’s articles of incorporation. Whatever address you put down will likely get targeted by data-sellers, junk mail, and door-to-door salespeople.

A better option? Hire Northwest to serve as your registered agent, put our South Carolina address down on your articles of incorporation, and leave the waiting (and the junk mail) to us. If we ever do receive a service of process on behalf of your nonprofit, we’ll scan it and send it to you that day.


Get a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Getting an employer identification number (a FEIN or EIN) for your nonprofit is a must. Without one, you can’t easily open a bank account, can’t apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS, and will otherwise struggle to establish credit with vendors and a reputation as a legitimate, reliable organization in the eyes of potential donors. Luckily, getting an EIN is a fairly easy process. After the state approves your articles, you can apply for an EIN on the IRS website, by fax, or by mail. Or you can pay an additional $50 fee and let Northwest get your EIN for you.


Hold Your Organizational Meeting & Adopt Bylaws

Will My South Carolina Nonprofit Need Corporate Bylaws?

Yes, South Carolina requires nonprofit corporations to adopt bylaws. You should do so at your first official meeting (often called an “organizational meeting”) at which you also appoint directors and/or officers, draft resolutions for various corporate actions, such as opening a bank account, and otherwise complete the process of incorporating your nonprofit. Make sure to adopt your nonprofit’s bylaws prior to seeking 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS.

Why Do Bylaws Matter?

Bylaws are your nonprofit’s internal rules. They spell out, in advance, how your nonprofit will operate and manage itself in times of crisis or change. What are the president’s responsibilities? What is the procedure for disciplining a member? How will records get kept and stored? Who will be your nonprofit’s public face? Without answers to questions like these, your organization will find itself incapably of acting consistently and in a unified manner.

It isn’t easy to write effective bylaws, which is why you should seek the advice of a qualified attorney before their official adoption. But if you need help getting started, you can use our adaptable template for writing bylaws, as well as our numerous other free nonprofit forms, when you hire Northwest.


Apply for Federal and/or State Tax Exemptions

Will My South Carolina Nonprofit Be Tax-Exempt?

Not right away. To obtain federal tax-exempt status, you’ll need to submit an Application for Recognition of Exemption to the IRS. The application costs $275 for smaller nonprofits that qualify to submit IRS Form 1023-EZ and $675 for organizations that submit Form 1023. If your nonprofit intends to go this route, make sure your articles of incorporation include the specific tax-exempt language and provisions required by the IRS.

If you’d like to learn more, check out our detailed Guide to 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Status.

What About South Carolina State Tax Exemptions?

If your nonprofit manages to obtain 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt status, you can send a letter to the SC Department of Revenue requesting an exemption from the state’s corporate income tax. You’ll need to include your IRS Determination Letter when you make this request.

You can apply for an exemption from the South Carolina sales and use tax by filing Form ST-387 with the SC Department of Revenue (you’ll need to include your IRS Determination Letter, your corporate bylaws, and financial information, as well). Keep in mind, though, that a sales tax exemption refers only to purchases made for resale. Even exempt nonprofits pay sales tax on items purchased for their own use. Learn more at Northwest’s guide to South Carolina state tax exemptions.


Obtain South Carolina State Licenses

Does a South Carolina Nonprofit Need a Business License?

South Carolina doesn’t issue a statewide, general business license, but many cities and counties have licensing requirements of their own. Check with your local city clerk’s office to find out which (if any) of your nonprofit’s activities require a license.

Should My Nonprofit Register as a South Carolina Charity?

If your nonprofit will solicit charitable contributions in South Carolina, it will need to file a Registration Statement for a Charitable Organization with the SC Secretary of State. You can submit this document by mail or online. There is a $50 registration fee.

You will also need to renew your registration each year (within four and half months of the close of your fiscal year). This involves submitting an annual Registration Statement (which costs $50 to file) and either an Annual Financial Report or IRS Form 990. Learn more at Northwest’s guide to registering a South Carolina charity.


Open a Bank Account for Your SC Nonprofit

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

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


Submit the SC Annual Tax Return

Does a South Carolina Nonprofit Submit an Annual Report?

Unlike most states, South Carolina doesn’t require nonprofits to submit an annual report updating basic information with the state. Instead, your South Carolina nonprofit will submit Form 990-T, a state corporate tax return. You’ll submit Form 990-T even if your nonprofit obtains 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt status, and you’ll include your federal return with the form. There is no filing fee apart from any taxes owed to the state. Form 990-T is due by the fifteenth day of the fifth month following the close of your tax year (usually May 15th). Learn more at Northwest’s South Carolina Annual Report Filing Instructions.