How to Start a Nonprofit in Kentucky

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

Step 1: Name Your Kentucky 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: Register with the Department of Revenue
Step 7: Get an EIN
Step 8: Apply for 501c3

Recommended: Start your nonprofit with Northwest for just $29 + state fees
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Starting a 501c3 Nonprofit in Kentucky Is Easy

Kentucky, the Bluegrass State, is home to plenty of people, but the number of nonprofit organizations isn’t particularly high. In fact, there are only 21,554 organizations in Kentucky that employ around 243,600 people. 

Interestingly, the nonprofits in Kentucky do bring in over $31 billion in revenue, and they have assets that are worth $65 billion. Still, the majority of nonprofits don’t earn over $250,000 a year — only 50 bring in $100 million or more annually. 

Some of the largest organizations by revenue include:

  • Baptist Health Foundation
  • University of Louisville Research Foundation
  • Appalachian Regional Healthcare
  • Kentucky Medical Services Foundation
  • St. Elizabeth Healthcare

It may not be surprising, but the highest-earning organizations tend to be general hospitals, hospital systems, religious organizations, managed care organizations, and public utilities. 

Some of the nonprofits you may recognize in Kentucky include:

  • Kentucky Education Association
  • God’s Pantry Food Bank
  • Home of the Innocents
  • Asbury Theological Seminary
  • Blue Grass Community Foundation
  • Paducah Junior College
  • American Board of Family Medicine

When deciding on a route for your nonprofit, consider which types of organizations have the fewest nonprofits versus those that have many. For example, there are many religious and educational institutions in Kentucky, but there are fewer social science, medical, and scientific research centers. You might also want to look into nonprofit areas in which there are only a few hundred nonprofits, such as in public safety or environmental arenas. 

Whatever you choose to do, you will need to start working on your nonprofit from the ground up. That means getting started by forming your nonprofit the right way.

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

The first and possibly most crucial step in establishing your new nonprofit is choosing a name for your organization. You need to choose a name that complies with Kentucky’s naming regulations and one that is easy to find by prospective members or donors. 

To get more specifics about how to name your nonprofit, see our guide on how to name a Kentucky nonprofit.

1. Follow the naming conventions:

  • End the name of your nonprofit with: “company,” “corporation,” “limited,” “Corp.,” “Inc.,” Co.,” or “Ltd.”
  • Ensure your name doesn’t contain language stating or implying that the corporation is organized for a purpose other than that permitted by its Articles of Incorporation.

See the official guidelines for Kentucky-based organizations so you can choose a name that is acceptable in the state.

2. Is the business name still available in Kentucky? Check the State of Kentucky’s name search to see if the business name you want is available.

3. Can you get the name as a URL? Many nonprofits have gone online with a personalized web domain. Although you might not plan to have a website, you should buy your URL in case you want to build one later. Additionally, buying your domain will prevent others from using it.

Now, it’s time to ask a professional company familiar with forming Kentucky nonprofits to help complete the process. Provide them with your new name and URL, and then you’ll start finalizing the process so you can open your doors. We recommend working with:

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in Kentucky

Your nonprofit must nominate a Kentucky registered agent to accept legal documents on behalf of your organization. 

What is a registered agent? A registered agent is any individual (resident) or corporation you choose to accept legal documents on behalf of your business entity. Almost anyone can be a registered agent, including yourself or a colleague working with the nonprofit.

Many people choose to work with a registered agent service, which is authorized to do business in Kentucky. 

If you still need help deciding on a registered agent, see our Kentucky Nonprofit Registered Agent guide.

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 Kentucky 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.

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

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

You’ll need to apply for 501c3 status, but you will not be eligible until you create two documents:

  1. Bylaws: Rules that define how you’ll run the organization
  2. Conflict of interest policy: A policy that restricts the board of directors, officers, and others to only making decisions they feel are in the best interests of the nonprofit, not in the best interests of individuals. 

NOTE: Your nonprofit will have its first organizational meeting to appoint the board of directors and officers you want to have run your nonprofit. At that time, you also need to adopt the conflict of interest policy and chosen bylaws. 

Step 5: File the Kentucky Articles of Incorporation

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

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 Kentucky Secretary of State

File Online

– OR –

OPTION 2: File Form NAI by Mail or In Person.

Download Form

State Filing Cost: $8

Mailing Address:
Michael Adams
Office of the Secretary of State
P. O. Box 718
Frankfort, KY 40602-0718

Office Address:
Room 154, Capitol Building
700 Capital Avenue
Frankfort, KY 40601

Hours of Operation: 8:00 AM-4:30 PM ET

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

Step 6: Register with the Kentucky Department of Revenue

Within 30 days of filing as a new business entity, the organization must register with the Kentucky Department of Revenue.

Register with the Department of Revenue

Option 1: File online with the State of Kentucky

File Online

– OR –

Option 2: File by mail.

Download Form

Mail to:
Kentucky Department of Revenue
Division of Registration
P.O.Box 299, Station 20
Frankfort, Kentucky 40602-0299

Fax: (502) 227-0772

Step 7: Get an EIN

What is an EIN? EIN stands for “Employer Identification Number” and is used to identify your business for tax purposes. Much like how individuals are identified by Social Security numbers, your nonprofit is identified by its EIN. This number is also sometimes called a Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN).

You need an EIN to complete important tasks for your business. An EIN gives you the right to open a business banking account. It also makes it possible to pay taxes in your nonprofit’s name and to hire people to work with your nonprofit.

Our EIN Lookup guide gives more information on this topic.

Step 8: 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 Kentucky. Use our Kentucky 501c3 lookup table to find all Kentucky 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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