How to Start a Nonprofit in Wisconsin


The process of registering your nonprofit with the state of Wisconsin can seem daunting. However, it’s not as difficult as you might think. This article will walk you through each step of the process so that by its end, you’ll be well on your way to starting a new organization in the state.

Step 1: Choose a name for your nonprofit

  • Choose a name for your nonprofit that is easy to spell and pronounce. To make sure your chosen name is available, you will need to search for it on the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institution’s website. The website contains all active charter documents in Wisconsin and can be searched by keyword or by location. The search results will provide information like entity type, status, date filed and registered agent information (if applicable). If your desired name is taken by another organization in Wisconsin, you may still use it if you are a religious or charitable organization because these types of organizations cannot register their names as trademarks.

Step 2: Check to see if your nonprofit name is available

When you’re ready to name your nonprofit, the first thing you should do is check with the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s office. You can search for available names on their website or use their online tool.

Your second option is to visit one of the many online databases that list nonprofits in your state.

Step 3: Establish a board of directors

The next step is to establish your board of directors. Your board is responsible for overseeing the operations of your organization, making sure it runs smoothly and efficiently.

You have to have at least three directors on your board. At least one director must be an officer of the corporation (meaning that person has a certain title within the company), but no more than two can be officers from the same corporation. One director must not be an officer of any corporation listed in its articles as a member or member’s subsidiary; if there is more than one non-member subsidiary listed as a member in your articles, then at least two directors cannot also serve as an officer for any such member corporation or subsidiaries thereof.

The final requirement for being able to form a nonprofit corporation in Wisconsin is having at least one resident who isn’t an officer or employee of any other nonprofit entities listed within its articles as members

Step 4: Create a business plan

You’ll need a business plan to help you raise money and establish your organization. Your business plan should include:

  • A description of the problem or need that your nonprofit is trying to address, along with a budget for how much money you think it will cost to solve that problem or fill that need.
  • A description of how your nonprofit will accomplish its goals and meet its financial obligations, including how many people it expects to serve and how much money it expects to spend on expenses such as salaries and supplies.
  • A marketing plan outlining how you intend to tell people about the services offered by your organization, who those people are likely to be in terms of demographics (age range), geographic location (city or town), an education level (high school diploma vs college degree) and other characteristics that might affect their interest in supporting your work.

Step 5: Complete the IRS application packet and file it with the state of Wisconsin

Now that you have a 501(c)(3) approved by the IRS, it’s time to file the application packet with the state of Wisconsin. This is done through the Department of Financial Institutions at the Department of Administration (DOA).

The DOA will mail you a packet containing forms and instructions on how to complete them. You’ll need:

  • Form F-0580-N (Application for Certificate of Authority) and Form F-0581-N (Application for Registration). These are two separate forms that must be completed in full before filing your application with DOA. They can be found on this page at
  • Form F-0582-N Nonprofit Organization Annual Report – Use this form to report any changes in your organization since its last annual report was filed with DOA; also known as an amendment or update. If there are no changes, leave this section blank. An IRS determination letter showing your nonprofit status as tax-exempt in good standing; not every nonprofit organization needs one but if yours does then make sure it’s included with this packet otherwise it could delay processing time at DOA. The appropriate registration fee payment is based on how many employees work for each one of these organizations: 1–4 employees = $25 per year plus $0 per additional employee; 5–9 employees = $25 plus $1 per additional employee; 10–19 employees = $50 plus $2 per additional employee; 20–49 employees = $100 plus $3 per additional employee; 50+ employees = cost varies based upon number employed

This covers the process of registering a Wisconsin nonprofit.

  • Select your nonprofit’s name and file an application with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), which is the state agency that oversees nonprofits, to register as a charitable organization.
  • Get written confirmation from DFI that your application has been received and is being processed by the agency, along with a copy of Wisconsin Statutes 178.1151-178.1161, which cover nonprofit organizations’ responsibilities regarding annual reports and financial audits.
  • If you’re starting a new nonprofit in Wisconsin, contact the Internal Revenue Service for federal tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; if you are already operating another type of non-profit corporation in Wisconsin or another state, contact that state’s attorney general’s office for guidance on how to transfer its tax-exempt status into your new entity if it qualifies under federal law (this will depend on whether it was formed as an entity like a trust or foundation).
  • Apply for tax-exempt status with both state and local authorities; check online resources.


Following these steps will help you get your nonprofit off on the right foot. Remember, the most important thing is to do your research and make sure that you are following all applicable laws and regulations!

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