How to Start a Nonprofit in Delaware

To start a nonprofit in Delaware and get 501c3 status, follow these steps:

Step 1: Name Your Delaware Nonprofit
Step 2: Choose Your Registered Agent
Step 3: Select Your Board Members & Officers
Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy
Step 5: File the Certificate of Incorporation
Step 6: Get an EIN
Step 7: Apply for 501c3

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Starting a 501c3 Nonprofit in Delaware Is Easy

The state of Delaware is a small one, which means there aren’t a lot of nonprofits to be found. In total, there are only 7,961 nonprofits in Delaware today, meaning there is room for additional organizations to be formed. 

The organizations in Delaware currently employ around 75,276 people and bring in over $12 billion in revenue annually. Many nonprofits that work within Delaware aren’t based there — this is relatively unique to the state. 

For example, some of the nonprofits are based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which is under an hour from the state by car. Some others are based in Salisbury, Maryland. That being said, Dover, Delaware, has 1,235 nonprofits based there, so some are within the state. If you’re hoping to open an organization within Delaware, that may be a good place to start looking. 

Top nonprofit organizations in Delaware include:

  • Connections Community Support Programs
  • Goodwill Industries of Delaware and Delaware County
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware
  • Community Systems

These organizations are large and drive employment in the region. 

High-earning organizations include:

  • American Online Giving Foundation
  • The Essex Avenue Foundation
  • Nanticoke Health Services
  • American Gift Fund

The most common kinds of nonprofits in Delaware include foundations, educational institutions, religious organizations, human service organizations, and business and community development organizations. Others that you can find in Delaware include arts, culture, and humanities programs, mutual assistance programs, and many others. 

If you’re looking for a niche, consider social science, medical, disease-focused, or scientific research — each of these areas has under 60 nonprofits within the state. 

Opening a nonprofit is a good way to help improve employment numbers and bring in good revenue while helping others, but you need to make sure that you open your nonprofit correctly to avoid compliance issues. 

To start a 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization in Delaware, you must first start a nonprofit in Delaware according to the rules of the state and then apply for 501c3 status with the IRS.

Learn more about 501c3 eligibility in our What is a 501c3 guide.

Want to form a nonprofit elsewhere? Check out our other How to Start a Nonprofit guides. Also, check out our best nonprofit formation services review.

Step 1: Name Your Delaware Nonprofit

To start your nonprofit organization, the first step has to be choosing the right name. This might seem easy, but you do need to be sure that the name you choose follows the rules set by the state and is easy to search or remember. 

Take a look at our How to Name a Nonprofit in Delaware page to learn more about the names that may or may not work for you.

1. Follow the appropriate guidelines for your nonprofit’s name:

  • Make sure your nonprofit’s name:
    • Is distinguishable and recognizable as its own entity (it shouldn’t be easy to confuse with other entities in Delaware.)
    • Have a suffix such as “Society” or “Foundation.”

The State of Delaware’s official guidelines give you more details on naming your nonprofit so you stay on the right side of the rules and regulations.

2. Is the name still available? Do a name search on the State of Delaware website to be sure no other business is already using your preferred business name.

3. Is the URL available right now? Your preferred business name may also have a matching URL. Check for a similar web domain. If you don’t find one, it might be better to choose a different name. If you do, reserve it so you can preserve it. Even if you don’t want to have a website now, you might want to have one in the future.

With a URL ready and your name chosen, it’s time to select a professional service to complete the Delaware nonprofit formation process on your behalf. We believe in choosing a company known for its customer service and experience, such as:

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in Delaware

Your organization has to nominate a Delaware registered agent for legal purposes.

What is a registered agent? A registered agent is either a business or an individual that will receive legal documents on your business’s behalf. Your registered agent is your main point of contact when interacting with the state. 

Who can you choose as a registered agent? Only residents and resident corporations, such as a registered agent service, can be designated registered agents in Delaware. You also have the option of assigning yourself or another member of your company to the role.

Our guide, How to Choose a Registered Agent for your Delaware Nonprofit, has more information on all you need to know to get started.

Step 3: Select your Directors & Officers

The directors of an organization come together to form a board of directors. This board of directors is responsible for overseeing the operations of the nonprofit. 

The president, secretary, and other members of the nonprofit who have individual responsibilities and authorities are known as officers

While Delaware only requires nonprofit corporations to have at least one board member, the IRS requires nonprofits to have at least three directors to be eligible for 501c3 status. The majority of directors should not be related to each other.

Delaware does not have any specific officer requirements, meaning titles are left up to the nonprofit to determine in its bylaws.

To learn more about electing a Delaware nonprofit board of directors, read our full guide.

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

Before you can seek your 501c3 status, your nonprofit has to put together its:

  1. Bylaws 
  2. Conflict of interest policy.

What are bylaws? Bylaws are important rules and guidance on how you’re going to run your nonprofit.

What is a conflict of interest policy used for? A conflict of interest policy assigns rules to your company that make sure officers or the board of directors don’t take actions that could be harmful to the nonprofit. All actions have to be in the nonprofit’s best interests. 

NOTE: During your first organizational meeting, you’ll need to assign officers and directors. It’s at this point that you’ll also need to adopt (and implement) your conflict of interest policy and bylaws.

Step 5: File the Delaware Certificate of Incorporation (for Exempt Corporation)

To register your nonprofit, you will need to file Delaware Certificate of Incorporation for Exempt Corporation.

To ensure that your nonprofit is eligible to apply for 501c3, in the Certificate of Incorporation you must explicitly state the following:

1. Purpose:

In order to qualify for 501c3 status, the organization’s purpose must explicitly be limited to one or more of the following:

Charitable, Religious, Scientific, Educational, Literary, Fostering national/international amateur sports competition, Preventing cruelty to animals/children, Testing for public safety

2. Dissolution:

You must explicitly state what the assets of the organization will be used for, and what will happen to the assets if the organization is dissolved. 

To be eligible for 501c3 status, the assets of your organization must only ever be used for purposes approved under section 501c3. 

Section 5 of this sample IRS document provides an example of these provisions required for 501c3 eligibility. 

File the Certificate of Incorporation

File by mail.

Download Template

State Filing Cost: $89 + $9 for each extra page

Delaware Division of Corporations
401 Federal St. Suite 4
Dover, DE 19901

Download Instructions

To learn more, read our Delaware Certificate of Incorporation guide.

Step 6: Get an EIN

What is an EIN? EIN stands for Employer Identification Number (EIN). Your company may also have a Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN). Both are numbers used by the federal government to identify your business for purposes such as taxation. An EIN or FTIN is used in place of your personal Social Security number. 

Why will I need an EIN? Without an EIN, you won’t be able to:

  • Get a business bank account for your nonprofit
  • Hire anyone to work for you
  • Pay taxes to the state or federal governments

How do I get an EIN? After you form your company, you can seek an EIN (for free) from the IRS by mail or online. Our EIN Lookup guide has more information that can help you get your EIN.

Step 7: Apply for 501c3 Status

Before a nonprofit can apply for 501c3 status it must, 

  1. Elect at least 3 directors not related to each other
  2. File the Certificate of Incorporation with the required provisions (As covered in Step 5)
  3. Adopt the bylaws and conflict of interest policy
  4. Have an EIN number

Once these four conditions have been met your nonprofit can apply for 501c3 tax-exempt status by filing Form-1023 online. 

If your application is approved, the IRS will send you a determination letter stating that your organization is exempt from federal taxes under section 501c3. 

See if your nonprofit has 501c3 status in Delaware. Use our Delaware 501c3 lookup table to find all Delaware nonprofits.

FAQ: Starting Your Nonprofit

When should an organization apply for federal tax exemption?

Form 1023 must be filed within 27 months from the end of the first month your organization was created.

How long will it take for the IRS to process Form 1023/1023-EZ?

Soon after sending your application you should receive an acknowledgment of receipt of your application. 

If your application is simple and complete, IRS will send your determination letter within 180 days for Form 1023.

If you have not heard from them by that time you can call (877) 829-5500 to inquire about your application. 

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