How to Start a Nonprofit in Indiana

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

Step 1: Name Your Indiana 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

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Starting a 501c3 Nonprofit in Indiana Is Easy

If you’re looking to start your nonprofit in Indiana, it may be helpful to look at the current nonprofits and what they do already. Why would that matter? If you want your nonprofit to be successful, it helps to see where more support is needed. 

Take for example the fact that Indiana has 41,919 nonprofit organizations, but 15,458 of those organizations are based in Indianapolis. This is the area with the most nonprofits, and the next greatest number of nonprofits is only 2,821 in Fort Wayne. So, where you place your nonprofit and establish your business may be important — choosing places like Bloomington or Lafayette (where nonprofits are less common) could be a good choice. 

Another interesting fact about the nonprofits in Indiana is that 64 of them employ over 1,000 people, but 5,429 employ less than 10. So, even if you plan to start small, understand that you are in good company.

And, if you have your goals set on high earnings, you’ll appreciate that many nonprofits earn over $250,000 annually — in fact, 76 nonprofits earn over $100 million annually. 

Some of the largest and highest revenue-earning nonprofits include:

  • Franciscan Alliance
  • Lily Cares Foundation
  • Community Health Network
  • Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana

Another thing you might want to consider is how many organizations do what you want to do with yours. For example, there are only 925 health organizations, but there are over 7,000 educational institutions. To limit competition, you might want to choose to work in medical or scientific research, civil rights, or the social sciences. Other nonprofit areas with fewer than 500 nonprofits include international-focused organizations and disease-focused nonprofits. 

No matter what you do, you need to get started on the right foot. 

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

You’ll need to choose a name for your organization, which must both follow the rules set by the State of Indiana and be easy to find. Potential members and donors should be able to search for it easily.

To learn more about the kinds of names you can have and ways to start brainstorming, read through our How to Name a Nonprofit in Indiana guide.

1. Follow the naming guidelines:

  • Your organization must:
    • Have a name with an organizational designation like one of the following: “Inc.,” “Ltd.,” “Incorporated,” or “Company”
    • Have a name that is distinguishable enough not to be confused with other organizations in the state

The Indiana General Assembly sets the official guidelines for naming your organization — read through them to make sure your name is acceptable.

2. Can you use the name in Indiana? Perform a name search on the State of Indiana website to see if it’s already taken.

3. Can you obtain the URL? To build your own website, you’ll need a personalized web domain. Even if you don’t want to make a website, it’s a good idea to get the URL now to prevent others from using it. 

After you get your name and URL, move on to finding a business that can help with the Indiana nonprofit formation process. It is our preference to choose a business with a positive reputation, such as:

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in Indiana

As a nonprofit, you must nominate an Indiana registered agent to help your organization.

What’s a registered agent? A registered agent is a person or business that will receive legal documents on your business’s behalf. Your registered agent is your main point of contact with the State of Indiana.

Who can be a registered agent? Residents or businesses within Indiana can be registered agents. Many nonprofits choose to work with a registered agent service. You could also choose to nominate someone from your business or take the role yourself. 

Here is more information in our guide: How to Choose a Registered Agent for your Indiana Nonprofit.

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 Indiana 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.

Unless otherwise noted in the bylaws, Indiana requires that the nonprofit’s officers include:

  • A president
  • A secretary
  • A treasurer

Officers can hold multiple titles if the bylaws allow for it.

To learn more about electing an Indiana nonprofit board of directors, read our full guide.

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

Before your nonprofit can become eligible for the 501c3 status, you will have to show that you have:

  1. Bylaws 
  2. A conflict of interest policy

What are bylaws? Bylaws are rules that describe how your nonprofit will be operated. 

What’s a conflict of interest policy? Officers and your board of directors need to sign a conflict of interest policy to agree that they will not do anything that could harm or not be in the best interests of your nonprofit.

TIP: Remember that you have to establish your bylaws and conflict of interest policy, as well as your initial board of directors and officers, during your first meeting.

Step 5: File the Indiana Articles of Incorporation

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

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 Indiana.

File Online

– OR –

Option 2: File by mail.

Download Form

State Filing Cost: $50

Secretary of State
Business Services Division
302 West Washington Street, Room E018
Indianapolis, IN 46204

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

Step 6: Get an EIN

What is an EIN? An Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN) tells the federal government that your business is an individual entity. Your business’s EIN is much like a Social Security number.

Why do I need an EIN? An EIN is required to do any of the following things on behalf of your business:

  • Opening a bank account
  • Paying taxes
  • Hiring people to work for you (employees)

How can you get an EIN for your nonprofit? To get an EIN, you’ll need to apply for one (for free) from the IRS after you form your company. You can apply by mail or online. Check out our EIN Lookup guide for more information on the next steps.

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 Indiana. Use our Indiana 501c3 lookup table to find all Indiana 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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