How Long Does It Take To Start a Nonprofit Organization?

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Starting a nonprofit organization can seem like a daunting task. But, with careful planning and execution, it can be a relatively smooth process. How long does this process typically take? In this article, we’ll explore how long it takes to start a nonprofit organization from the time of idea formation to the application. From there, we’ll look at the length of time after application approval to building the organization and raising funds. 


Come Up With a Vision

The first step is coming up with a vision for your nonprofit. This includes defining its purpose, programs, and activities. Once you have a clear idea of what you want your nonprofit to achieve, you can start putting together the necessary paperwork. Though you probably already have an idea of where you’re going with your idea if you’re reading this article, this process should take some time to ensure that your nonprofit is focused and has a clear mission.


Define Programs and Activities

After you have a vision for your nonprofit, you need to start defining its programs and activities. What are the specific goals of your nonprofit organization? What population do you plan to serve? What services will you provide? Once you have answers to these questions, you can start to develop your business model. You should take at least a few weeks, if not longer, to develop your programs and activities. This will ensure that your nonprofit is well-rounded and can sustain itself over time.


Create the Articles of Incorporation for Your Nonprofit

The next step is to create your Articles of Incorporation. This document will outline the basic structure of your nonprofit. It should include information such as your nonprofit’s name, purpose, and how it will be governed. You can usually find templates for this document online or through your state’s Secretary of State office. Completing the Articles of Incorporation is typically the longest and most complex part of the process, so give yourself plenty of time to fill it out correctly. This will take at least a few weeks to complete.


File to Get an Employer Identification Number

After your Articles of Incorporation are submitted, you need to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This is a nine-digit number that is used to identify your nonprofit for tax purposes, and it is an important component of the non profit tax exempt form. You can apply for an EIN online, by mail, or by fax. The IRS usually sends your EIN within four weeks of receiving your application.


Develop Policies and Bylaws

The next step is to develop your policies and bylaws. These documents will outline how your nonprofit will operate on a day-to-day basis. They should include information such as how decisions will be made, how funds will be raised, and how employees will be hired and organized. Developing these policies and bylaws can take from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the complexity of your organization.


Create a Budget, Set Fundraising Goals, and Prepare Financial Projections

Once you have your policies and bylaws in place, you need to start developing your budget. This includes figuring out how much money you’ll need to operate your nonprofit and how you’ll raise those funds. You should also develop fundraising goals and financial projections for your organization. This process can take a few weeks to a few months, depending on the size and complexity of your nonprofit.


Applying for 501(c)3 Tax-Exempt Status

The final step in starting your nonprofit is to apply for 501(c)3 tax-exempt status with the IRS. This process can take from a few months to a year, depending on how quickly you can gather the necessary paperwork and how long it takes the IRS to process your application.

This is the most complex and time-consuming step that creates difficulty for many nonprofits. Though some applications (specifically 1023-EZ applications) can be approved in a matter of weeks, many applications get delayed due to missing information or incorrect forms. The best way to avoid delays is to make sure you have all the necessary paperwork before you submit your application.



It’s important to note that starting a nonprofit is a lengthy process. It can take months, if not years, to get everything up and running. But, if you’re passionate about your cause and have the patience to see it through, it will all be worth it in the end.