How to Start a Nonprofit in Virginia

Yesterday I met with two people in different parts of the city who wanted to set up their own nonprofit organizations.  I always leave those meetings so energized.  I feel so lucky to get to talk to people who are about to embark on such an amazing and arduous journey.  I find myself giving out this information on a regular basis so I thought I would share it with the world. Here are the three things you must do first, then a tactical to do list with all the links you need to do it yourself.    

1. Ask WHY Nonprofits aren't all sunshine and rainbows.  The IRS and the state get involved, there are donors and clients and board members to tend to.  It is important you understand why you are forming it and how it fits into making the world a better place.  And, before you move on from this space make sure you have searched the area for other groups doing the same or similar work that you could partner with. 
2. MISSION/VISION As a founder, think strategically about what your mission should be and what kind of change you hope to make in the world.  Be very clear about it and then sell it to others. Bring in a strategic mind to help you walk through the options and understand your boundaries.  
3. Assemble your TEAM After you are clear on the purpose of your organization, pull together a team of people who are passionate about your cause and won't hesitate to fundraise and talk to people about it.  Next up, the paperwork.  

Tactical List - Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Business Administration

  1. Incorporate as a Virginia Non-Stock Corporation or Limited Liability Company (LLC) through the State Corporation Commission's Office of the Clerk.
  2. Apply for a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN or EIN) through the IRS. Apply online or download, print, and mail the SS-4.
  3. File IRS Form 1023 to request 501(c)(3) non-profit status.
  4. Register with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization so that you may accept donations. The registration package may be found here. You cannot register get a sales and use tax exemption from the Virginia Department of Taxation until you have registered
  5. Apply for Commonwealth of Virginia non-profit status using VATAX NonProfit Online.
  6. Check if you will have local business zoning, home occupancy, or license requirements.

Articles and Bylaws

  • A good starting place with samples and templates. Form 
  • Since these are legal documents, I do recommend you talk to a lawyer and I am happy to recommend someone if you need it.  Another great resource in Virginia is the ProBono Clearinghouse a service of the Virginia Bar Association. Here is a link to download their application for free legal assistance.