How to Start a Nonprofit in California


Starting a nonprofit can be a daunting process, especially if you’re doing it alone. However, with the right planning and determination, you’ll get through the paperwork and red tape to launch your dream organization. Follow these steps to start a nonprofit in California.

Decide on your Mission

Before you can start a nonprofit in California, you must first decide on your mission. The purpose of the organization should be clearly stated in its overall mission statement. This is how people will know what it is that you do and why they should be interested in supporting your organization financially (or otherwise!).

The goals and objectives of an organization need to be articulated as well. Your board of directors will need to define what success looks like for their particular venture before they can focus on measuring outcomes or impact. For example, if you’re launching an educational program for low-income students with disabilities, then one goal might be to increase graduation rates while another might be to decrease dropout rates. You may also have specific metrics related to fundraising goals and volunteer hours completed per month/quarter/year that help keep everyone focused on moving forward towards those higher-level goals in service delivery when things start feeling overwhelming due to resource constraints later down the road.

Choose a Name

Choosing a name for your nonprofit is an important step. You want to choose something that is easy to remember, unique, and not already taken. In addition, you should avoid any names that are offensive, obscene, or misleading.

Choose a Board of Directors

Now that you’ve registered your nonprofit, it’s time to get your board of directors in order.

First, you’ll need to choose your board members. In California, nonprofits are required by law to have a minimum of three and a maximum of 15 active voting members on their boards. It’s also important that each member have some expertise in the field of your organization (for example healthcare or education), so consider this when choosing who will serve on the board with you. The good news is that these people don’t need any prior experience and can be volunteers themselves!

You may not know anyone who has an idea for starting a nonprofit—but doesn’t worry; we’re here to help! One way is through our free community events where we offer training sessions for new nonprofits like yours in order to help them succeed at starting their own projects within their local area.

Write your Nonprofit By-laws

You will also need to write by-laws. These are the rules that govern the internal operations of your nonprofit organization and should include:

  • a mission statement that defines why you exist, who benefits from your work, and what results in you aim to achieve;
  • a description of how board members are elected or appointed;
  • procedures for setting up new committees and appointing officers (like the president, and treasurer) within those committees;
  • procedures for handling conflicts of interest among board members;
  • a process for conducting annual meetings (which must be held in California if you’re doing business here); and/or other items specific to your organization as decided by its directors.

File Paperwork for Tax-exemption

To complete the tax-exempt process, you’ll need to file certain paperwork. You can contact the professionals at Trademark Avenue to help you ease the process. The following are some basic steps you’ll want to take:

  • Determine if your nonprofit is eligible for tax exemption.
  • If your organization is not eligible for tax exemption, you can still apply under a different category (such as education).
  • Fill out Form 1023 Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRS Form 1023), which outlines what kind of activities your organization plans on engaging in and its overall goals. You must include a cover letter as well as financial statements from previous years with this form.

Hold an Organizational Meeting

A board of directors is a group of people who are responsible for overseeing the direction of a nonprofit organization. The board should consist of at least three people, but it can have more than that. Any person can be a member of your nonprofit’s board, but they must fulfil certain criteria:

  • They must be financially secure. If you’re starting out with no money and no assets, this may not seem like an important detail—but if you ever want to raise funds from other sources (such as grantmakers), it’s essential that your organization have enough financial backing to continue operating in the future. This means having at least one trustworthy person who has plenty of resources and time to devote toward managing his or her share in your new enterprise.
  • They must have experience working on nonprofit boards before joining yours (if possible). It’ll be easier for them to understand what kind of work goes into running an organization if they’ve already been through similar experiences themselves before coming on board with yours; after all, their expertise could come in handy when deciding how best to use those resources so they’ll last as long as possible before needing another round-up!

Obtain Federal and California State Tax ID Numbers

In order to obtain a tax ID number, you must fill out a form. Once you’ve been approved by the IRS and have your EIN (Employer Identification Number), you can apply for a FEIN (Federal Employer Identification Number). This is similar to a business license but only applies to nonprofit organizations.

Once you’ve obtained all of these numbers, they will be useful in other areas as well:

  • It allows donors who are not required by law to report their donations to know that there is a specific nonprofit organization that should receive credit for their gift or contribution.
  • It gives donors peace of mind knowing that their donation will go toward helping others and not someone’s self-interest or personal use.


Starting a nonprofit can take a lot of planning and effort to get off the ground, but it will be worth it when you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.

It’s important to consider why you want to start your own charity or organization. What are your goals? Do they align with the mission of existing charitable organizations? If not, how will yours differ from theirs?

There’s also the matter of money—or lack thereof! Nonprofits don’t exist in order for their founders or directors to make profits; rather, they rely on donations from patrons who believe in their cause and want them to succeed. The more people donate money (and time), the easier it’ll be for your nonprofit organization leading up until its grand opening day.


So, have you decided to start a nonprofit? Great! There are many steps involved in the process, but if you keep these tips in mind and choose wisely when choosing your name, mission statement, and board members, then there’s no reason why your organization shouldn’t be successful.

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