How to Start a Nonprofit in Washington


If you’re looking to start a nonprofit in Washington, the first step is applying for tax-exempt status from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Once your application has been approved, you can begin fundraising and ask for donations on behalf of your organization. The following steps will help guide you through the process:

Choose a name.

It is important that you choose a name that is unique and not already being used by another nonprofit in Washington. You can check the state’s business registration office or other resources to make sure your name is available.

Choose a name that’s easy to remember, spell and pronounce. For example, if you’re starting a nonprofit focused on literacy programs for children, naming it “ABC Literacy Project” is better than “Children’s Reading Foundation.”

Choose officers and directors.

Once you have decided on a name for your organization, the next step is to choose officers and directors. The officers are the president, secretary and treasurer. The directors comprise a board of directors who meet regularly to oversee the activities of the organization.

The board should be made up of people who have varying skills and knowledge related to nonprofit governance. You may want attorneys or accountants on your board, or perhaps someone who has experience in public relations or fundraising.

Form a board of directors.

A board of directors is a group of individuals who govern an organization. They can be elected or appointed and are usually responsible for setting the nonprofit’s direction and policies, overseeing finances, hiring staff members and volunteers, approving contracts, and monitoring performance.

Board members typically serve for two years before rotating off the board in order to ensure fresh ideas are brought into the organization at regular intervals.

Choose a registered agent.

Once you have formed your nonprofit corporation, you will need to choose a registered agent. A registered agent must be a person or business located within Washington state and provide your organization with a physical address in the state.

Apply for tax-exempt status.

Once you’re ready to apply for tax-exempt status, file Form 1023 with the IRS. If approved, your organization will receive a ruling letter confirming its 501(c)(3) status and can begin soliciting donations.

If you want to run a nonprofit in Washington state, there are some additional steps you must take beyond this initial process. In addition to applying for federal tax exemption, Washington requires you to register with its Department of Revenue and the Secretary of State’s office. After meeting these requirements and being granted federal recognition as a 501(c)(3) organization, it’s up to you how closely aligned your mission is with one or more existing organizations that may already provide similar services in the area—and whether or not competition would make sense for your community.

Set up your bank account and bookkeeping systems.

You have to keep accurate records, so you should set up your bank account and bookkeeping systems as soon as possible. You’ll also need to purchase software that can help you track the income coming in, the expenses going out and any other transactions that take place within the organization. Make sure to pick a safe place for these files—a fireproof safe or safety deposit box are good options if you have enough money for them.

Begin fundraising activities.

A nonprofit organization needs money if it is to survive. The most important step in starting your non-profit is to begin fundraising activities.

  • Start with a small base of donors. The first dollars you raise will be the most difficult, so make sure that, when you start asking for donations, you have enough donors to keep the organization going without having to wait for other donations. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for money—or more money! It can feel daunting at first but remember: People are giving their hard-earned cash because they believe in what your organization does, and they want an opportunity to help it succeed. Answering questions about why each dollar matters may feel like work at first, but after a while, it becomes second nature (and actually kind of fun).


Setting goals is an important first step, but that’s not the only thing you need to consider before starting your nonprofit.

Another important takeaway is how important it is to set realistic goals that are achievable in 3-6 months instead of focusing on what other people want.

For example, if you’re trying to lose weight and someone else wants to start a nonprofit, they might say: “Don’t worry about what I’m doing! Just focus on losing weight.” But this isn’t helpful advice as it doesn’t help them learn anything from their own experience or from yours. It’s also unrealistic because we all know that losing 20 pounds in three months isn’t possible for most people (and would probably be unhealthy).


Once you have all the necessary paperwork, you can begin operating your nonprofit. If you’re starting from scratch and don’t have any funds to start with, we recommend applying for a grant or using crowdfunding websites to raise money for your cause. After that, set up bank accounts and bookkeeping systems so that you can handle donations coming in easily and stay organized as an organization. Since nonprofits are required by law to file annual reports with the state every year, it’s important to stay on top of these forms so they don’t get sent back due to errors!

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