How to Start a Nonprofit in Pennsylvania


If you’re planning to start a nonprofit in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to follow certain steps in order to register your organization as an official corporation with the state. Here’s what you need to know:

Choose a name for your nonprofit.

Before you can begin your nonprofit organization, you’ll need to decide on a name. There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a name:

  • The name needs to be easy for people to remember and spell (no acronyms).
  • It shouldn’t be too long or too short—we recommend keeping it under three words.
  • You want to avoid using common words like “the,” “and,” etc., as well as abbreviations like “Inc.,” since these can make your organization hard for donors, volunteers and board members alike to find online.
  • Your new nonprofit’s name should also avoid being confused with already-existing nonprofits in Pennsylvania; this is especially important when deciding whether or not you’d like your new organization registered as a 501(c)(3). If there’s already another nonprofit with the same name within the state, it may be best not to try registering yours until after theirs goes out of business or rebrands itself. This is one reason why many new organizations choose generic names such as “Friends of…” instead of something specific like “Save Our Village Center.”

File the Certificate of Incorporation and Articles of Organization.

You must file the Certificate of Incorporation and Articles of Organization with the Pennsylvania Department of State. You will also need to register your nonprofit with the PA Department of Revenue if you plan on applying for tax exemption.

To get started, you’ll need a copy of your certificate or articles that have been signed by all incorporators (corporate founders).

If you’re filing online, it costs $50 for each entity and doesn’t require a notary public seal (which is required if filing via mail). If one person is filing on behalf of multiple entities, then each entity must be filed separately at $50 per entity. The turnaround time is about three days after payment has been made and documents have been received by the department.

Create Bylaws for your corporation.

The bylaws of your corporation will determine how it operates and in what ways it can be changed. They’re like the Constitution for a nonprofit and should be as specific as possible about matters like the corporation’s name, its purpose, who has voting rights on policy changes, and so on.

The DGS requires that all nonprofits incorporate their bylaws with them before applying for tax-exempt status or filing an annual report. Your incorporator must file these documents within 30 days after incorporating the nonprofit; if he fails to do so, then his status as president becomes nullified (this means you can have another person become president).

If you decide not to file your bylaws with DGS (which we recommend) then they should be stored in at least one place where everyone involved with your organization knows where they are located:

  • The nonprofit’s principal office (if there is one)
  • Where meetings take place (if meetings take place here)

Appoint an incorporator and a registered agent.

The incorporator is the person who signs the Articles of Organization. The registered agent is the person or business that receives legal notices for the nonprofit.

The registered agent must be a resident of Pennsylvania, but it can either be an individual or a corporation.

Hold an organizational meeting and adopt Bylaws.

A Bylaw is a set of rules that governs the internal operations of an organization. It includes information on how to elect officers, hold meetings and make decisions, handle finances, and other administrative tasks. You’ll need Bylaws if you want to:

  • Make it easier for people in your nonprofit to know how to act and what they are responsible for doing
  • Ensure that the organization is run efficiently
  • Protect your assets from misuse or misappropriation by those who may not be acting in accordance with the mission of your nonprofit

Determine whether you need to file any additional forms with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Now that you’ve formed your nonprofit, you must file annual reports and pay franchise taxes to the state. If the laws in your state require this, then it’s time to take a look at what paperwork is required.

If you are a nonprofit corporation, you must file an annual report and pay an annual franchise tax with the Pennsylvania Department of State (DOS). The DOS will give you instructions on how to do this when they receive your IRS 501(c)(3) letter from them.

The DOS will also send out a notice telling them whether or not they need to file any additional forms with them after they receive their IRS 501(c)(3) letter

Follow these 6 steps to register your nonprofit in Pennsylvania

  • Find a name that’s unique, but also easy to spell and pronounce.
  • Your board of directors should be made up of people who are interested in your cause and want to help out. Get at least three people on the board before you start registering with the state. Ideally, these people will be connected to businesses or organizations in Pennsylvania. If they’re not from PA, they’ll need to get an address in the state so that they can legally serve as voters for your nonprofit corporation if it ever goes public (more on this later).
  • Write a mission statement for your organization—a short paragraph explaining why you’re here and what purpose you serve. Keep it simple and short enough so that anyone can understand it easily!


If you follow these steps to form your nonprofit, you’ll be well on your way towards starting an organization that will act as a positive force for change in Pennsylvania.

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