How to Start a Nonprofit in Michigan

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

Step 1: Name Your Michigan 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 Michigan Is Easy

The state of Michigan is home to 55,068 organizations that bring in a whopping $88 billion in revenue annually. Those organizations help employ over 590,797 people, and they have assets of at least $309 billion. Knowing that, if you intend to start your own nonprofit, you could help employ people or bring in revenue for good causes as well. 

The majority of nonprofits are based out of Detroit (21,591), but there are nonprofits scattered all over the state. For example, there are 2,532 nonprofits located in Ann Arbor, and 2,005 located in Flint. Where you’ll set up shop will depend on the kind of nonprofit you want to run and what you plan to do with it. 

When it comes to employing locals, nonprofits are great for building employment numbers. In fact, 90 organizations in the state employ over 1,000 people and 2,603 that employ at least one person. With that in mind, the size of your nonprofit can range from small or enormous, so you could become an important employer in the local area. 

Large organizations located in Michigan include:

  • Covenant HealthCare
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation Trust
  • Kresge Foundation
  • National Center for Manufacturing Sciences

These and other organizations bring in $100 million or more in revenue annually. 

If you’re not sure what kind of nonprofit you want to open yet, consider one in a less prominent industry, such as scientific research or social science research. You may also want to work in public safety or civil rights. 

The most common nonprofits are in industries including recreation and sports, religion, and education, which could mean there is more competition for an up-and-coming nonprofit.

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

Getting the right name for your nonprofit is the first step toward forming your business. To do that, you’ll need to take a look at the “How to Name a Nonprofit in Michigan” guide and make sure the name you pick fits Michigan’s naming guidelines. Remember, a good name is easy to search for and find, making it possible to reach new potential members or donors.

1. Follow the naming requirements:

Michigan has one significant naming requirement to follow:

  • Choose a name for your organization that doesn’t include words that could suggest any other purpose for your nonprofit other than what you stated in your Articles of Incorporation.
  • Avoid terms found on the state’s restricted words list without first obtaining permission from the applicable source.

Check out the Michigan Legislature’s official guidelines for naming a nonprofit to learn more.

2. Is another business using the name in Michigan? Complete a name search on the State of Michigan website to be sure no other business is already using the name you’d like to use.

3. Is the URL available? Many nonprofits go online with their own web domain. You may find that your business name isn’t available and want to switch until you find one that is, or you could find your URL and reserve it. Even if you don’t want to have a website, remember that reserving your URL can prevent others from using it. 

After you get an interesting URL and decide on your business name, the next step is to complete the business formation process. We suggest working with a professional service that can help finish the Michigan business formation process for you, such as:

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Resident Agent in Michigan

All nonprofits in Michigan are required to nominate a registered agent, known in Michigan as a “resident agent.”

What is a resident agent? A resident agent can be a corporation or resident of the state of Michigan. This person or entity will accept legal documents on behalf of your business entity. Interestingly, while many people choose to use a registered agent service, you can choose to work as your own resident agent or may opt to nominate someone who works with your nonprofit.

Keep in mind that this person or entity needs to be the main point of contact with the state, so they have to be prepared to accept legal documents at any time.

For more details on finding and choosing a registered agent, check out our Michigan 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 Michigan 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.

Michigan also 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 a Michigan nonprofit board of directors, read our full guide.

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

To be eligible to apply for 501c3 status, your nonprofit has to put together two documents, bylaws and a conflict of interest policy. 

Your bylaws go over every rule and requirement while running your organization. They detail how the organization is going to be run during day-to-day operations. 

The conflict of interest policy is something the people working with the nonprofit sign. It states that they (the board of directors or officers, for example) may only make decisions with the intention of a positive outcome for the nonprofit. Decisions made for an individual to benefit (especially when harm could come to the nonprofit) are not allowed. 

NOTE: You need to assemble your bylaws and conflict of interest policy for your first organizational meeting. When you adopt them, you’ll also adopt your board of directors and general officers. 

Step 5: File the Michigan Articles of Incorporation

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

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 Michigan.

File Online

– OR –

Option 2: File by mail or in-person.

Download Form

State Filing Cost: $20

Mail to:
Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs
Corporations, Securities & Commercial Licensing Bureau
Corporations Division
P.O. Box 30054
Lansing, MI 48909

Submit in-person:
2501 Woodlake Circle
Okemos, MI
Telephone: (517) 241-6470

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

Step 6: Get an EIN

What is an EIN? An EIN is your “Employer Identification Number,” sometimes referred to as a Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN). This number is used much like your personal Social Security number, but it represents your individual business entity. The IRS and other government agencies use this number to identify your nonprofit.

Why do you need an EIN? There are several reasons why you have to have an EIN for your business. When you get an EIN, your business is recognized as its own entity — you are able to open a bank account, pay taxes, and hire people in its name.

How to get an EIN: An EIN is free to obtain from the IRS by mail or online, so you just have to apply once your business is formed. Check out our EIN Lookup page for more info. 

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