Print Friendly, PDF & Email

501c3 Approved

I’m going to give you this really simple – well kinda simple checklist to get your 501c3.  It’s not all inclusive, but its here just to give you an overview of the process assuming you’re starting from scratch.

1.  Get Incorporated – Visit the Secretary of State (SOS) website for your state to incorporate your organization.

You can use your favorite search engine to find your SOS website,  But be careful, there’s a lot of junk sites out there.  Most of the SOS websites have SOS in the weblink.

Your articles will need to have the required language.  If it doesn’t you’ll have to file articles of amendment to amend them by filing Articles of Amendment.  Some states have these clauses as part of their standard incorporation forms.  Others (like Illinois don’t).  I’d be careful about using an online service for obtaining the articles.  Contact your state and make sure the online process is set-up to include the 501c3 required language or at least allows you to add it.  If it doesn’t file paper forms.

Here’s a sample the IRS provides online:,,id=123028,00.html

2.  Obtain your EIN number. The IRS makes it really easy to obtain this number online.


Once you get this number and have your articles in hand, you can open a bank account for your organization.

3.  Register with your state attorney general’s office to get approval to solicit donations.

Once you’re registered you can start soliciting donations in your state ONLY.   You don’t need to get your 501c3 approval to start soliciting donations.

Important! The clock is ticking – you have 27 months to get your application out the door.   After that, things get complicated. But if you’re on time and your application is approved, your 501c3 will be effective the day you’re incorporated.  If not, it will be effective the day of the postmark on the envelope when you send your application.

4.  Check with your state for other filing requirements (e.g. business income tax exemption, sales tax exemption, employee income taxes, collecting sales taxes for merchandise you sell, etc.)

You can usually gather information on your state’s Department of Revenue or Taxation website.  Some states have a Starting your Non-Profit Organization web page with a checklist of what’s required for your state.

5.  Prepare your 501c3 application using IRS Form 1023.

Take your time and go through IRS publication 557 and the instructions for form 1023. The IRS charges $400 or $850 to review your application.  Will your organization earn $10,000 or more in any year for the next 4 years? Or did your organization earn $10,000 or more in any previous years? If so, you’ll pay the $850 fee.

The IRS doesn’t have a fixed time frame to review the applications.  Most of mine get approved in 4 to 6 weeks once the IRS gets it.  Still the application could require additional review and take longer.  The IRS has a “Where is My Exemption Application?” page that shows their process and how they are coming along with processing returns.  Here’s the link:

Need Help?

Click here for a mini-course the IRS put together to help you.

If you’re comfortable dealing with all the paperwork and you’ve managed to get through steps 1 – 4 on your own, PRAISE THE LORD!  You could probably benefit from using one of ourSample 501c3 Application kits.

If you prefer to delegate, delegate, delegate, then we’re here to help.   I specialize in 501c3’s for religious and charitable organizations. Check 0ut my 501c3 Application Services page for more details.

Belinda Whitfield

Belinda Whitfield is a certified public accountant that specializes in serving churches and non-profit organizations. Through her firm, Whitfield & Associates, she provides tax services, accounting and compliance oversight and strategic planning for churches and non-profits throughout the United States.

All author posts
  • Reply Bertha Parbey

    September 9, 2011, 10:24 pm

    I enjoyed the usefulness and easy way you have shared your information on this website. If you have a newsletter, I would love to receive it. I has started the process to operate a non-profit assisted living facility for the elderly. I have ignored the call and passion to do this for over 20 years! So 2012 is the year.

  • Reply Pastor :Jorge L Carmona

    January 9, 2012, 10:24 pm

    Hi Ms Belinda Whitfield I haved washed your video we are a Spanish church and we will like to aplied for the 501c3 were four churches and all are already Incorporated we need some help and we been praying and today I FOUND you soo let see how god help us I want to talk to you in person by phone so I CAN SPLAIN WHAT WE NEED, thanks for your time we have been bless , always Pastor Jorge Carmona , from Erie PA.

  • Reply matt skoglund

    June 13, 2013, 11:34 am

    Do you have any sample kits for a rec. program. We are based out of Wisconsin and in need of a 501c3.

  • Reply Prem

    June 24, 2013, 1:07 pm

    Hi Belinda,

    I am from India, could you let me know how to start a religious/charitable npo in the USA. It is possible to do just like INC/ LLC. Should I present in the USA to start one. Do we need to have board of US citizens or can we do it with Indian’s itself. Can I have some resources on this. What would be the total fee including the IRS and Yours. Appreciate your response very much.


    • Reply Belinda Whitfield

      June 25, 2013, 10:47 am

      Hello Prem,

      Your not-for-profit organization must be formed within one of the states in the U.S.
      Each state’s requirements for directors and officers vary. Most states require someone to serve as a registered agent.
      The registered agent typically must have an office in the state or be a resident of the state you incorporate in.
      There are companies that you may pay to serve as your registered agent.

      Our fee is $[modified since comment was posted](or 3 payments of $[modified since comment was posted]).
      You should budget $[modified since comment was posted]- for the total project, including our fee, IRS and state registration fees.
      Visit my page – 501c3 Application Service for more details.

      Let me know if I can be of further assistance.

      Belinda Whitfield

  • Reply Andrea

    September 7, 2013, 7:43 pm

    Hi, we have applied for our 501c3 but it is taking a long time and we would really like to know if there is anything that can be done to move it along. Is this something you can advise on or assist with? If so, we’d be more than happy to hear from you about the details and requirements to work with you on it. Thank you!

    • Reply Belinda Whitfield

      September 16, 2013, 10:40 am

      Hello Andrea,

      I know it seems its taking forever. There’s nothing anyone can do to speed things up.

      Make sure you have received the letter of acknowledgement from the IRS that indicates they have received your application.
      So at least you know your application is in their system for processing.

      Currently the IRS is assigning applications received in April 2012. This means they are assigning these application to an IRS agent to review the application.
      That’s a 17-month delay before an IRS agent will look over your application. I don’t recall the IRS being this far behind – ever, ever, ever.

      Peace and Blessings,
      Belinda Whitfield

  • Reply Grace Anderson

    September 16, 2013, 10:02 am

    Hi Belinda

    It was really nice talking with you. Your 501 C (3) Kits have been a true blessing to our agency. I was able to follow the steps and I’m ready to file it with the IRS. I will keep you posted with the outcome. God bless!

  • Reply Ray

    October 21, 2013, 1:52 pm

    Dear Belinda,
    Thank you so much for your 5 easy steps to help me become a nonprofit 501(c)(3) public benefit/charity organization. I have started a corporation called Bedside Concerts for Wounded Warriors and need all of the advice that I can get. I myself am totally disabled and don’t have the money to hire someone however, it sounds like you are exactly the right person for the job. Recently I had to borrow the $400, for the IRS’ application fee and, wish there was enough available to retain you as my consultant. In the mean time, I’ll use your 5 easy steps. Thanks again Belinda, I sincerely appreciate your help!

    • Reply Belinda Whitfield

      October 22, 2013, 9:48 am

      Hello Ray,

      I’m pleased to hear the article helped you.
      Keep in mind, you have 27 months to incorporate, and promote your organization, put on your fundraiser hat and raise money to get your application to the IRS.

      Peace and blessings!
      Belinda Whitfield

  • Reply Bill Wright

    November 16, 2013, 3:44 pm

    For the past 17 years I have been the treasurer of an independent Baptist church in Virginia that has been in existence for 60 years. We have never filed for 501(c)(3) status because of the effort and expense, but we are thinking of doing so now because of increasing requirements to prove our tax exempt status to get favorable treatment from food banks and other entities. We are not incorporated – in fact churches in Virginia were not allowed to incorporate until 2002. Your checklist says step 1 is to get incorporated. Is that required to file Form 1023? If it makes a difference, we do have state recognition that we are a tax exempt entity.

    • Reply Belinda Whitfield

      November 27, 2013, 7:00 am

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for sharing the issues you are having.

      No you are not required to get incorporated.
      The IRS recognizes other entity types besides non-profit corporations (e.g. unincorporated entities, LLC’s and trusts).
      The non-profit corporation is the simple process I follow as it protects the church members from legal liability and meets the IRS requirements for the 501c3.

      The IRS will want the document filed to form the legal entity, this may or may not necessarily the document you filed to be treated as a tax exempt entity.

      You will need to review the instructions in Publication 557 to determine if the document meets the IRS requirements.

      I hope this helps.

      Peace and Blessings,

  • Reply Nia

    December 28, 2013, 5:13 pm

    Good Afternoon.

    I am trying to complete our 501c3 for my church and outreach ministry.
    All Souls Welcome Bible Church and Outreach Ministry.

    I have my EIN.
    I have our bank account as well.
    We are having services regularly.

    Please help. I’ve heard so MANY things I just want to do the right thing the RIGHT way the FIRST time.

  • Reply Mashonda

    March 16, 2014, 3:21 pm

    Hi I am working with my church to obtain a 501 c3 we are a non profit with the Secretary of State do we need to set up articles and a board?

    • Reply Belinda Whitfield

      March 17, 2014, 10:40 pm

      Hi Mashonda,

      Yes, you will file articles of incorporation to get incorporated with the Secretary of State.
      And you will also need to set-up a board of directors of at least 3 people.

      I hope this helps!

      Peace and Blessings!
      Belinda Whitfield

  • Reply Pastor C Brown

    November 13, 2014, 10:33 pm

    Hi Belinda,
    There is a lot of information on this blog regarding this 501c3. I have a EIN for my non-profit but never filed for the 501c3. I never used the number. Will this still be considered a new non-profit? I do not want to merge this with the church name. What stepps do we need to take?

    • Reply Belinda Whitfield

      November 14, 2014, 6:17 pm

      Hello Pas. Brown,

      New? That all depends.

      Here’s the bottom line: You’ll need to file form 1023 within 27 months of your incorporation date.
      If you get this done on time, your 501c3 determination will be retroactive to your incorporation date.

      If your package is postmarked after the 27 months, your effective date will be the postmark date of your application.

      Let’s get that puppy out the door!

      Peace and Blessings!

  • Reply Nicole McGee

    January 24, 2017, 5:39 pm

    Hi Belinda,

    Do I need to become Incorporated to start a outreach ministry in Illinois?

    Thank you,


Write a comment