How to Start a Nonprofit in Hawaii

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

Step 1: Name Your Hawaii 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 Articles of Incorporation
Step 6: Get an EIN
Step 7: Apply for 501c3

Recommended: Start your nonprofit with Northwest for just $29 + state fees
  • Formation and FREE registered agent services for your first year
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Starting a 501c3 Nonprofit in Hawaii Is Easy

The nonprofits in Hawaii are based primarily in urban Honolulu and Kahului. The state has 9,152 organizations in all, with 5,848 in Honolulu and 1,159 in Kahului. Of the nonprofits in Honolulu, 107,076 people are employed by nonprofits. In Kahului, 4,822 are employed. 

Many nonprofits in the state have few employees — 1,298 have less than 10. 12 large nonprofits have over 1,000 employees each, though. Those large employers include:

  • Global Broadcasting Service of Hawaii
  • Hawai’i Pacific Health Group Return
  • Punahou School

In general, the largest employers in the state are community clinics, general hospitals, religious media organizations, and managed care organizations. High schools also top the list. 

Many nonprofits in Hawaii are very successful, with 15 earning over $100 million annually. However, 1,978 don’t earn over $250,000 in operating revenue. No matter how large you think your own nonprofit will be, there is a place for it in Hawaii. 

The highest-earning nonprofits in Hawaii include organizations such as:

  • Hawai’i Pacific Health Group Return
  • The Queen’s Medical Center
  • Hawaii Dental Service
  • Kamehameha School

If you’re unsure what sort of industry you want to break into, consider the current industries in the state. There are only 18 social service research centers, 35 medical research organizations, and 50 public safety organizations. On the other side, there are 1,455 religious organizations and 981 educational institutions — so you might want to work in an underserved area or join in to help with other large nonprofits. 

Before you can get going, it’s time to put together your nonprofit while adhering to the rules and regulations of the state. 

To start a 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization in Hawaii, you must first start a nonprofit in Hawaii 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 Hawaii Nonprofit

Choosing the right name for your nonprofit is the first step you should take toward opening your doors. However, you need to make sure your nonprofit meets the Hawaii naming requirements and is searchable by potential donors and members who want to find it.

Discover more about naming your business in our How to Name a Nonprofit in Hawaii guide.

1. Follow the naming guidelines:

  • Make sure the name you choose doesn’t suggest that your business has any other purpose except for the one explained in your articles of incorporation.

Check out the state’s official guidelines to see more about naming your Hawaii-based business.

2. Is the business name available within Hawaii? Complete a name search on the Hawaii Business Express website — if another business is using the name, you likely won’t be able to.

3. What is the URL’s availability? One thing we recommend is that you check to see if you can get your business name as a web domain. Although you may not plan to make a website right now, buying your URL will prevent others from using it, and make sure it’s ready when it’s time for your site to be built.

Once you decide on a URL and your business name, you can take the next step and select a professional service to help you complete the Hawaii nonprofit formation process. It is our recommendation to reach out to a company with a history of positive interactions with clients and known expertise, such as:

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in Hawaii

You must nominate a Hawaii registered agent for your nonprofit organization.

What is a registered agent? Your registered agent is either an individual or a business that is a resident of the state. The individual or business works as your main point of contact with the state and accepts legal documents on your nonprofit’s behalf.

Who can be a registered agent for your nonprofit? A registered agent must be an individual who is a resident of Hawaii or a Hawaii-based entity, such as a registered agent service. The agent must be authorized to conduct business within Hawaii. Beneficially, you can choose to be your own registered agent, or you can have someone from your business fill this role. 

If you need more help deciding on a registered agent, take a look at our How to Choose a Registered Agent for your Hawaii Nonprofit article.

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

Both Hawaii and the IRS require 501c3 nonprofits to have at least three directors to be eligible for 501c3 status. The majority of directors should not be related to each other.

Hawaii 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 Hawaii nonprofit board of directors, read our full guide.

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

Before your nonprofit can become eligible for 501c3 status, it has to establish bylaws and a conflict of interest policy.

What are bylaws and conflict of interest policies? Bylaws are rules that explain how you will run your business. They guide people on how to handle all kinds of tasks. That’s important in combination with the conflict of interest policy. 

The conflict of interest policy restricts the board of directors and officers from making decisions for the nonprofit that benefit them but not the nonprofit. It’s a protective policy to encourage people to only do what’s best for the nonprofit.

NOTE: You need to adopt your bylaws and conflict of interest policy during your first organizational meeting. That’s the same meeting during which you’ll select your board of directors and officers.

Step 5: File the Hawaii Articles of Incorporation

To register your nonprofit, you will need to file the Articles of Incorporation with the State of Hawaii.

To ensure that your nonprofit is eligible to apply for 501c3, in the Articles 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 Articles of Incorporation

Option 1: File online with the state of Hawaii.

File Online

– OR –

Option 2: File by mail.

Download Form

State Filing Cost Online: $25

State Filing Cost by Mail: $30

State of Hawaii
Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs
Business Registration Division
P.O. Box 40
Honolulu, HI 96810

To learn more, read our Hawaii Articles of Incorporation guide.

Step 6: Get an EIN

What is an EIN? An EIN is an Employer Identification Number or Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN). The point of an EIN is for the business entity to have its own identifier that can be used by the IRS. This is used similarly to a Social Security number. 

Why do I need an EIN? There are several reasons you need an EIN. They include:

  • Being able to get your own bank account for your business
  • Being able to hire people to work for the business (employees)
  • Being able to pay local, state, and federal taxes on behalf of your business

How do I get an EIN? You can get an EIN free of charge by requesting one by mail or online from the IRS. To find out more, check out our EIN Lookup guide.

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 Articles 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 Hawaii. Use our Hawaii 501c3 lookup table to find all Hawaii 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. 

State of Hawaii Quick Links