Should I Form a Nonprofit?

October 8, 2021

This article is for educational and entertainment purposes only. This is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. Every case is different. Consult a licensed professional in your state. Viewing this website or its content does not create an attorney-client relationship with Lyda Law Firm or any of its lawyers.

Are you considering forming a nonprofit corporation?

Maybe you just came up with an idea to change the world, or perhaps you’ve been saving the world for years and want a formal structure for your work. A nonprofit corporation may be a great fit for what you want to accomplish.

However, before you form a nonprofit, there are several important considerations to think through before taking the next step. Use our guide below to learn more about nonprofit corporations generally, when forming one might make sense for your situation, and how a nonprofit lawyer with Lyda Law Firm can help you get started.

What is a nonprofit?

First, you should understand what a nonprofit corporation is (and isn’t).

A nonprofit corporation (sometimes referred to informally as a charity) is a type of legal entity that is organized and operated for some kind of public good. This is in contrast to a traditional business whose general aim is to provide a profit to its owners.

Nonprofits, on the other hand, must put any money that is left after expenses back into the organization, instead of giving it to individual owners. In other words, if you’re looking to start a nonprofit to maximize your own profits, then you’re probably going down the wrong path. However, if your goal is to promote a social cause, then a nonprofit might be a good fit for you.

What are the benefits of starting a nonprofit?

Starting a nonprofit has many benefits, but there is one main reason to structure your organization this way: taxes.

Nonprofits can get state and federal exemptions from paying corporate income tax (and other certain taxes). This means your nonprofit does not have to pay tax on the money that it brings in (like a traditional business would need to do).

Tax-exempt status can also help you raise money for your organization. Certain individual donors can receive tax deductions when they make donations to your nonprofit, which can be a big draw when you are fundraising. However, nonprofits have to formally qualify with the federal government and the state in which they operate to receive these tax benefits.

What are the downsides of starting a nonprofit?

To begin with, it takes time and money to start and run your nonprofit. There are extensive applications and forms required to receive your formal nonprofit incorporation and fees to pay as part of this process. Thus, to better ensure that everything is done correctly, you’ll want to hire an attorney and an accountant, which adds to the cost.

In addition to the start-up costs, most states require annual fees to retain your nonprofit status. You’ll also be subject to ongoing compliance requirements, like keeping detailed records and holding an annual board of directors meeting, to maintain your tax-exempt status. 

What else should I be thinking about at this stage?

There are several things to think through as you’re deciding whether to form a nonprofit.

To start, you’ll want to have a good idea of what your organization will look like. One good exercise to accomplish this is to go through the five W’s of journalism: who, what, where, when, and why.

  • Why are you starting your nonprofit?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Who do you want to serve, and who will run your organization? 
  • Where do you want to serve?
  • When do you expect to provide these services?

If you’re struggling to answer these questions, you probably aren’t ready to start your nonprofit yet. But if you can answer these questions, then you’ve already done some of the work you’ll need to do as part of your nonprofit application!

What are some alternatives to forming a nonprofit?

If you’re not sure that a nonprofit is right for you, there are several alternatives available.

In some scenarios, a traditional for-profit business might better accomplish your goals. If you want a for-profit business but still want to do good, you can consider a certified B-corporation, which is a new hybrid business that balances profit with purpose. They are legally required to meet standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.

Alternatively, if you like the idea of a nonprofit, but don’t feel ready to go out on your own yet, you could consider a fiscal agent or fiscal sponsor. These relationships allow you to house a charitable project within an existing nonprofit with the ability to spin off your project as its own nonprofit at a later date.

You could also consider working as an employee or volunteer at an existing nonprofit that does work similar to what you want to accomplish. This will give you invaluable experience in the nonprofit world and will help you decide if starting your own organization is something you want to do.

Speak with an experienced nonprofit lawyer today

Starting a nonprofit can be a very exciting and fulfilling undertaking. However, it’s not something to jump into lightly. As such, you’ll want to think through this decision carefully. 

Moreover, if and when you do decide to form a nonprofit corporation, it's important that you go through the proper steps to complete the process. Doing so correctly the first time can save you a great deal of time and expense later on down the line.

If you have questions about how to form a nonprofit, or whether forming a nonprofit is even right for you, give Lyda Law Firm a call. We have represented both private charities and public foundations, advising on issues ranging from entity formation, to 501(c)(3) status, to contract negotiations, and everything in between. Contact our team to see how we can help you form your nonprofit today.

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