How to Start a Nonprofit in Iowa

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

Step 1: Name Your Iowa 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 Iowa Is Easy

Iowa is a state with many important nonprofits that help people from all walks of life. As someone who is looking into starting a nonprofit, it’s helpful if you examine a current list of nonprofits and the way those organizations help people in their local communities and beyond. 

Understanding which nonprofits are already in the state as well as what industries they focus on may help you find your own niche. For example, out of the 29,774 nonprofits in Iowa, 12,002 are in Des Moines and bring in nearly $10 billion in revenue annually. 

All of the nonprofits in the state employ around 236,000 people and earn a combined $24 billion in revenue — that shows how much of an impact even smaller organizations can make. 

Besides the state’s capital, thousands of other nonprofits of them are found in other cities, including:

  • Cedar Rapids (1,710)
  • Waterloo (1,338)
  • Iowa City (1,288)

Of course, you can also choose to open your nonprofit in areas where others aren’t present. 

One important part of opening a nonprofit is the potential for growth and employing people locally. 50 of the nonprofits in the state employ at least 1,000 people per employer, and 1,211 are responsible for employing at least one person — which makes a huge impact on local economies. 

Another thing to consider is that 40 of the Iowa nonprofits bring in over $100 million in revenue annually. Some of those organizations, such as UnityPoint Health, are also major employers, bringing healthcare and work to their surrounding areas. 

Whether you want to start a large or small nonprofit, there is space for you in Iowa. 

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

Before you can open your nonprofit, you’ll need to choose a name for it. Doing that is simple enough — but you need to be sure it complies with the state’s requirements. Also, be sure the name is easy to remember or search for, so potential members or donors can find you.

Discover more in our How to Name a Nonprofit in Iowa guide.

1. Follow the guidelines to choose a name:

  • The name of your nonprofit shouldn’t suggest that it has a different purpose than what you listed in your articles of incorporation. For example, if you’re a food pantry, you shouldn’t call it a firm.

Take a look at the Revised Iowa Nonprofit Corporation Act for more details about the names you can or cannot have.

2. Find out if the name is available? Via a name search on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website, see if the name is in use. If another business has it, you won’t be able to use it.

3. Can you get the name as a URL? Most businesses use a web domain. Even if you don’t want a website, though, you should purchase your URL. Keep this website, and you’ll prevent others from using it in your place. 

After you get the URL you want and confirm that your business name is available, it’s time to find a business to help you finish the business formation process. It’s our suggestion to work with a business that has positive reviews and a history of great customer service, such as:

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in Iowa

In Iowa, nonprofits must nominate a registered agent. A registered agent is a person or corporation (such as a registered agent service) that is a resident of (or is authorized to work in) Iowa. This agent receives all legal documents for your business entity. Essentially, they work as a point of contact with the state.

Choosing a registered agent isn’t difficult — you can be one yourself, or you can nominate someone you work with. 

Not sure where to begin? Read our How to Choose a Registered Agent for Your Iowa Nonprofit guide 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 Iowa 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.

Unless otherwise noted in the bylaws, Iowa 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 Iowa nonprofit board of directors, read our full guide.

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

Before you can ever apply for 501c3 status, your nonprofit has to create bylaws and a conflict of interest policy. 

Your bylaws are simply rules about how you’ll run your organization. The conflict of interest policy makes sure people do what’s best for the nonprofit. It requires the board of directors, officers, and others to make decisions that are in the nonprofit’s best interests, not an individual’s best interests. 

NOTE: These two policies will be implemented during your first organizational meeting. This is the same meeting during which you’ll choose and establish your board of directors and all the officers you wish to appoint.

Step 5: File the Iowa Articles of Incorporation

To register your nonprofit, you will need to file the Articles of Incorporation with the State of Iowa. The state of Iowa does NOT provide a form for applicants to fill out. You must draft your own Articles of Incorporation and submit to the Secretary of State.

To ensure that your nonprofit is eligible to apply for 501c3 status, 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 Iowa.

File Online

– OR –

Option 2: File by Mail or by Fax

Read Requirements

State Filing Cost: $20

Mail to:
Secretary of State
Business Services Division
Lucas Building, 1st Floor
Des Moines, IA 50319

Fax: (515) 242-5953

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

Step 6: Get an EIN

The next step you have to take is to get an EIN for your business. An Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN) is simply a number that the federal government uses to identify it. Much like a Social Security number, this number can only apply to one specific business entity. 

When you run a business, it’s important to get an EIN to be able to:

  • Open a bank account for your business
  • Hire employees who can work with your nonprofit
  • Pay federal taxes
  • Pay state taxes

Is it hard to get an EIN? No, not at all. In fact, you can get an EIN for free from the IRS. All you have to do is form your company and then make a request for an EIN by mail or via the internet. Read our EIN Lookup to find out more. 

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