How to Start a Nonprofit Organization in New York

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

Step 1: Name Your New York Nonprofit
Step 2: Choose Your Registered Agent
Step 3: Choose Your Nonprofit Type
Step 4: Select Your Board Members and Officers
Step 5: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy
Step 6: File the Certificate of Incorporation
Step 7: Get an EIN
Step 8: Apply for 501c3

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Form Your Nonprofit

Starting a 501c3 Nonprofit in New York Is Easy

New York is home to the third-most nonprofit organizations of any state, with 117,817 nonprofits located in the state. From religious organizations to foundations to human services organizations, these New York nonprofits support a wide variety of missions and come in an equally wide variety of sizes. 

Combined, New York nonprofits generate an average of $334 billion in revenue each year. They also employ a combined total of 2 million employees and have combined assets totaling $748 billion in value. 

Religious organizations make up the largest number of nonprofits in the state of New York with 21,606 organizations. Foundations are the second-largest nonprofit category in the state at 16,426 organizations, and educational institutions are the third-largest with 13,041. 

However, it is health organizations that generate more revenue than any other category of New York nonprofits. Each year, nonprofit health organizations in the state earn a total average of $135 billion. Educational institutions come in second with over $61.7 billion in average yearly revenue, and foundations come in third with more than $27 billion. 

Unsurprisingly, New York City is home to more nonprofits than any other city in the state with 74,957. Rochester comes in a distant second with 6,555, and Buffalo is third with 6,540. 

All of this is to say that New York is an excellent place to start a nonprofit. Best of all, starting a nonprofit in New York is a relatively simple process once you know the right steps. 

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

A great business name is a vital ingredient for any business, including nonprofit organizations. Along with choosing a name that will help you attract as many members and donors as possible, though, you will also need to choose a name that complies with New York naming guidelines. 

To learn more about how to name a New York nonprofit, check out our How to Name a Nonprofit in New York guide.

New York Business Naming Guidelines 

New York business owners must adhere to the following guidelines when choosing business names: 

  • The name must include an organizational designation, such as “Incorporated,” “Inc.,” “Ltd.,” or “Company”
  • The name must not be deceptive in any way and should not suggest that your organization was designed for a purpose different than the purpose stated in your certificate of incorporation
  • The name must not falsely suggest that your organization is acting as an agent of the United States or the state of New York 
  • The name cannot include certain terms such as “doctor,” “lawyer,” “labor,” “council,” “school,” or “education” (without special authorization)
  • The name cannot include any words or phrases that are considered obscene or derogatory to certain persons, groups, or beliefs

You can find a complete list of New York business naming guidelines on the New York State Senate’s official website

Checking Your Name’s Availability 

You can check the availability of a business name by conducting a business name search on the NYS Division of Corporations website. 

Along with ensuring that your business name is available, it’s also a good idea to see if the name is available as a web domain. That way, when you’re ready to make your website, you will already have control over it before others can obtain it.

Once you’ve chosen a name and web domain for your nonprofit, the best way to complete the process of forming your company is to use a business formation service. There are plenty of high-quality services available for New York business owners to choose from, but our top recommendation is: 

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in New York

In New York, the Secretary of State is the default statutory agent for service of process (i.e., registered agent) for your nonprofit. Your company’s registered agent will receive important legal documents on behalf of your company and will be responsible for forwarding them to the company.

You can also elect your own agent. If you decide to elect a registered agent for your nonprofit, you will have the option of either electing yourself, an individual within your company (as long as they are a New York resident) or using a registered agent service that is authorized to conduct business in the state. 

For more information on how to elect your own agent, be sure to check out our guide on choosing a registered agent for your New York nonprofit.

Step 3: Choose Your Organization Type

Before proceeding further, you must decide what kind of corporate structure your organization will have and obtain any approvals you might need. You will need to choose from the following options:

  1. Religious Corporation – there are distinct rules and regulations that are applicable to religious corporations operating in New York. Access further information about starting a religious organization in New York in the Consolidated Laws of New York.
  2. Nonreligious Corporation
    1. Consent or Approval Required – If your nonprofit’s purpose is related to any of the following in the graph below, you must obtain approval from the appropriate governing body. This approval must accompany your Certificate of Incorporation application.

Types of Nonprofits and Agencies

Organization’s PurposeNY Government Agency
404(a) Formation of a trade or business associationNY Attorney General
404(b) Adult care facility, victims of domestic violence, care of dependent children, adoption, foster care, etc.Children – Children and Family Services
Adults – Commissioner of Health
404(c) Operation of a hospital or health service, or medical/dental indemnity plansCommissioner of Health
404(d) Operation of a university, school, college, museum, library, or historical society or any other purpose in which the organization might be chartered by the Board of RegentsCommissioner of Education
404(e) CemeteriesCemetery Board
404(f) Fire corporationAuthorities in your local city/village/town
404(g) Prevention of animal crueltyAmerican Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Certified copy of an order by the justice of your local Supreme Court
404(h) YMCAYMCA Chairman
404(i) Raise funds for or benefit the armed forcesAdjutant General
404(j) Labor unions and similar organizationsIndustrial Board of Appeals
404(k) Promotion of banks, life insurance, or interests of member banksSuperintendent of Financial Services
404(l) Insurance agents, brokers, underwriters or independent laboratories (and more)Superintendent of Financial Services
404(m) Includes the name of a political partyChairman of your local county’s political party of the same name
404(n) Includes the words “American Legion”American Legion Department of New York
404(o)(t) Maintenance of a hospital or soliciting contributions for such a purposePublic Health and Planning Council
404(p) Medical corporationCommissioner of Health
Public Health and Planning Council
404(q) Establishing or operating mental health facilitiesCommissioner of Mental Health
404(r) Health maintenance organizationCommissioner of Health
404(u) Establishment or operation of a substance abuse program or soliciting donations on behalf of one of these programsCommissioner of the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services
404(v) Establishment, operation, and maintenance of a nonprofit casualty and/or property insurance companySuperintendent of Financial Services

Read full descriptions of each of these categories in Section 404 of the New York State Senate’s requirements for nonprofit corporations

No Consent or Approval Required – if your nonprofit does not fall into one of these categories, you do not have to submit additional approval information with your Certificate of Incorporation application.

Step 4: 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 New York 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.

New York 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 New York nonprofit board of directors, read our full guide.

Step 5: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

Before your organization is eligible to apply for 501c3 status, you will first be required to create the following documents: 

  • Bylaws: Bylaws are the rules that dictate your organization’s operating procedures, including its rules, protocols, and management structure 
  • Conflict of interest policy: A conflict of interest policy is a set of rules designed to prevent board members and officers from acting in their own interest rather than the interest of the company 

Both of these documents should be adopted during your nonprofit’s first meeting where the directors and officers are officially appointed.

Step 6: File the New York Certificate of Incorporation

To register your nonprofit, you will need to file the Certificate of Incorporation with the State of New York.

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

File Form DOS 1511 by Mail, by Fax, or In Person

Download Form

State Filing Cost: $75

Filing Address:
Department of State Division of Corporations
State Records and Uniform Commercial Code
One Commerce Plaza
99 Washington Ave.
Albany, NY 12231

Fax: (518) 474-1418

Note: Fax filings must include a Credit Card/Debit Card Authorization form.

To learn more, read our New York Certificate of Incorporation guide.

Step 7: Get an EIN

Every organization in New York is required to attain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Federal Tax Identification Number. This number is used for identification purposes and essentially serves as a Social Security number for your company.

Why You Need an EIN

Organizations in New York are required to have an EIN before they are able to open a business bank account, file federal or state taxes, or hire employees. For these reasons, it’s impossible to create a nonprofit in the state without one. 

How to Get an EIN

You can obtain an EIN for your nonprofit free of charge by contacting the IRS either online or by phone. For more information on how to get an EIN, check out our EIN lookup guide. 

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 Certificate of Incorporation with the required provisions (As covered in Step 6)
  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 New York. Use our New York 501c3 lookup table to find all New York 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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