Did you know that forty states require you to register your charity – before you even start to fundraise? And only three states let you fundraise freely without any requirements. Nearly all have different forms, penalties, and fees as well.
State-by-state registration is so seemingly complicated that thousands of charities pay for-profit legal firms annually to file the forms for them. If you plan to fundraise from the United States and can’t afford to hire a legal firm, you need to know how to register your organization as simply as possible!
Step 1: Factor the process of registering your charity into your work plan and budget
If you are filing initially, the process might take a while, because you need to research a bit and send a form to every state from which you are soliciting funds. You want to make sure you assign the task to a staff person or volunteer who is very detail-oriented and has the time in her work schedule.
Also, you need to be aware that almost all states have a filing fee. It ranges from $10 to $750 (see chart here) for each state, so make sure you factor the cost into your budget.
Step 2: Make a list of states to which you have to register
Where are you going to fundraise? Find out what the particular requirements are for those states. You will have to check each state’s rules individually as to whether or not your charity has to submit a registration form.
Often, but not always, smaller nonprofits are exempt or certain types of nonprofits (education, religious, etc.) do not have to file.
Step 3: Collect your organizational information
To file, you will need basic information for your organization including:
- Your EIN/taxpayer identification number.
- Your organizational mailing address, phone number, and other public contact information.
- An attachment-ready list of all of your offices in other states with complete addresses.
- Your 501c3 determination letter from the IRS.
- Your National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities Code (NTEE) – you will classify in one of 26 groups and can find yours on Guidestar if you are unsure.
- Your list of board members, their affiliations, and their contact information.
- Your list of key staff, their affiliations, and their contact information. You must have your CEO and your financial administrator, or the person who is responsible for using funds and the person who holds funds. You must also list all of your fundraising staff and/or volunteers.
- An organizational description (what you will do with the funds you are soliciting).
- Name and contact information of your outside auditor.
- A list of any outside fundraising consultants/firms that help your organization and their contact information.
- You will also need official signatures on each form, most likely from your CEO, but depending on each state’s particular requirements. Some states require notarized signatures, so get them all together at the same time for your organizational leader to expedite!
- For most states you can use a credit card, so have your organizational card handy to process payments.
Step 4: Fill out the Universal Registration Statement (URS) and attachments
Luckily, a group of proactive people, the National Association of State Charities Officials, got together and created a universal process for 36 states and the District of Columbia. Some states require a bit more information, but the common form can still be used with state specific attachments downloadable from the same site. The Unified Registration Statement and all related forms can be downloaded here from their nonprofit coalition site.
Step 5: File separately in Colorado, Florida, and Oklahoma
Three states require you to use their particular forms – Colorado, Florida, and Oklahoma.
- Colorado: You can fill out the form on their website. You need to pay a $10 fee when you submit, by credit card on the site.
- Florida: Go to the Florida Department of Revenue page and download the form. The fee ranges depending on how much money you plan to solicit; most small nonprofits will pay $75.
- Oklahoma: You can file this form easily online, with a $15 fee, on the state website.
Step 6: Check other states in which you fundraise
Seven states have gray rules, where they don’t require official registration but do have regulations for charities, especially if the charity is out of state. Those states are Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Texas, Indiana, and Vermont.
Step 7: Stay organized and follow-up annually
Make sure you collect all certificates of filing legitimately in each state to which you apply for solicitation rights, and follow up annually with any re-registration or financial reporting requirements. Have a dedicated staff person assigned to this post if you can!
Though it may seem like a confusing task, you need not waste precious funds and resources on filing for state charitable registrations if you just spend a bit of time collecting information and organizing your efforts before you fundraise!