How to Start a Nonprofit in North Carolina

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

Step 1: Name Your North Carolina 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 North Carolina Is Easy

North Carolina is home to 54,666 different nonprofit organizations. These organizations come in a wide variety of sizes and purposes and include nonprofits such as educational institutes, religious organizations, youth development organizations, and dozens of others. 

The largest category of nonprofits in North Carolina is religious organizations. At the time of this writing, there are 10,256 nonprofit religious organizations located in North Carolina. Educational institutions are the second-largest category at 7,659 organizations, and human services organizations are the third-largest at 4,798. 

In terms of revenue generation, nonprofit health organizations bring in more revenue than other categories of nonprofits in the state. Each year, North Carolina nonprofit health organizations earn an average total of $30 billion. Educational institutions generate the second-highest revenue ($12 billion per year), and public sector, public co-ops, and veteran organizations generate the third-highest ($5.7 billion per year). 

Health organizations also employ the largest number of people, with 191,314 employees working at nonprofit health organizations in North Carolina. Educational institutions come in second with 115,979 employees, and human services organizations come in third with 77,869 employees.  

If these statistics sound favorable for your organization, it’s time to get started officially forming your nonprofit in North Carolina.

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

Choosing a name for your company is a key first step when forming a nonprofit in North Carolina. Along with choosing a name that is original and attention-grabbing, you will also need to pick a name that complies with North Carolina’s business name requirements. 

Check out our How to Name a Nonprofit in North Carolina guide to see more about choosing the best possible name for your organization. 

1. Review North Carolina’s nonprofit naming rules. North Carolina requires the names of nonprofits to comply with several guidelines, including: 

  • The name cannot contain terms or information that imply a purpose for the company that is different than the purpose outlined in its formation documents 
  • The name must be adequately distinguishable from the name of any other business entity located in the state
  • The name cannot include any obscene words or phrases 
  • The name need not include organizational designations such as “Inc.,” “Ltd.,” “Incorporated,” or “Company”

You can find the complete list of rules and requirements for naming a North Carolina nonprofit in the North Carolina Secretary of State’s official guidelines.

2. Confirm the name is available for use in the state. One of the requirements for naming a North Carolina nonprofit is that the name must be distinguishable from the names of other pre-existing North Carolina businesses. To make sure that your desired name isn’t already taken, you can do a name search on the North Carolina Secretary of State website.

3. Confirm the URL is available for use. Once you’ve found a name for your nonprofit that is available, you’ll next want to make sure that it is available as a web domain. You can do this using a tool such as Even if you don’t plan to create a website for your nonprofit right away, we still recommend you purchase your domain name ahead of time before someone else claims it. 

Having chosen a name and domain name for your company, the next step is to file your nonprofit with the state. We highly recommend using an experienced and well-reviewed business formation service to complete this process for you:

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in North Carolina

Every nonprofit organization in North Carolina is required to have a registered agent. Here is what you need to know about nominating a registered agent for your company: 

What is a registered agent? registered agent is someone who is designated to receive service of process when your organization is a party in a legal action such as a lawsuit or summons. A registered agent is able to receive tax documents on behalf of your business as well. 

How do I choose an agent? Any individual living in North Carolina can be the registered agent for your nonprofit. This includes your company’s employees and even yourself. Registered agent services that are authorized to operate in North Carolina can act as your registered agent as well, and this is a convenient option for many business owners. 

To learn more about choosing a registered agent for your organization, read our complete guide on How to Choose a Registered Agent for Your North Carolina 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

While North Carolina 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.

North Carolina 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 North Carolina nonprofit board of directors, read our full guide.

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

To be eligible for 501c3 status, nonprofit organizations in North Carolina are required to have bylaws and a conflict of interest policy in place. 

Bylaws are a list of rules that dictate your nonprofit’s operating procedures. 

conflict of interest policy is a document containing rules designed to prevent board members and officers at a nonprofit from making decisions that further their own interests instead of the company’s interests.

NOTE: Your nonprofit’s bylaws and conflict of interest policy must be adopted during the company’s first organizational meeting (the meeting where directors and officers are officially appointed). 

Step 5: File the North Carolina Articles of Incorporation

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

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 North Carolina

File Online

– OR –

Option 2: File by mail or in-person.

Download Form

State Filing Cost: $60

Mail to:
Business Registration Division
P.O. Box 29622
Raleigh, NC 27262-0622

Submit in-person:
Business Registration Division
2 South Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC 27601

To learn more, read our North Carolina Articles of Incorporation guide.

Step 6: Get an EIN

The next step in the process of forming a nonprofit in North Carolina is to acquire an Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN) for your company. This number is used for identification purposes and is a lot like a Social Security number for business entities. 

Why do I need an EIN? North Carolina nonprofits are required to have an EIN before they are able to open a business bank account, hire employees, or file taxes. An EIN is, therefore, something that every North Carolina nonprofit will need. 

You can request an EIN from the IRS free of charge, either online or by mail. Check out our EIN Lookup guide to learn more about how to get an EIN for your nonprofit. 

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 North Carolina. Use our North Carolina 501c3 lookup table to find all North Carolina 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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