How to Start a Nonprofit in Pennsylvania

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

Step 1: Name Your Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania Is Easy

Pennsylvania is a great state to start a nonprofit company. In fact, there are currently over 77,860 nonprofit organizations located in the Keystone State. These organizations range from educational institutions to human service organizations to foundations and dozens of other categories. 

The American Association for Cancer Research, the American College of Physicians, and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust are just a few of the state’s more recognizable nonprofit organizations. Combined, nonprofit companies in Pennsylvania generate an average annual revenue of $159 billion per year and own over $419 billion in assets. Pennsylvania nonprofits also employ a total of 1 million people. 

Religious organizations make up the largest category of nonprofits in Pennsylvania, accounting for 11,096 of the state’s nonprofit organizations. This is followed by foundations with 9,689 organizations and educational institutions with 8,771. 

In terms of revenue generation, health organizations make up the largest nonprofit category in Pennsylvania. Each year, nonprofit health organizations in the state generate a combined average of over $62 billion per year. Educational institutions generate the second-most with more than $32 billion in combined yearly revenue, followed by foundations with almost $13.9 billion. 

These numbers show that Pennsylvania is a solid state for nonprofits to operate in. If you would like to add your own organization to this list, you’ll first need to follow the formation process.

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

Coming up with a name for your nonprofit company is an important branding decision as well as a necessary first step in the process of forming your company. Before you are able to file your nonprofit with the state of Pennsylvania, you will first need to choose a name that meets Pennsylvania’s business name requirements. 

For more information on how to name your nonprofit company, check out our How to Name a Nonprofit in Pennsylvania guide.

Pennsylvania Business Name Requirements 

In Pennsylvania, nonprofit companies are required to choose a name that: 

  • Is distinguishable from the name of any other company located in Pennsylvania 
  • Does not imply that the organization is affiliated with a government agency 
  • Does not imply that the organization is a public utility company
  • Does not contain words, phrases, or terms associated with financial institutions 
  • Does not contain words, phrases, or terms that are considered grossly offensive 
  • Does not contain words, phrases, or terms associated with educational institutions 
  • Does not contain words, phrases, or terms that imply that the organization is an insurance company
  • Does not contain words, phrases, or terms associated with other specific professions 
  • Does not contain words, phrases, or terms associated with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)

You can refer to the Pennsylvania State Guidelines for a complete list of rules for naming a nonprofit company in the state. 

State Name Availability 

One of the requirements for naming a nonprofit company in Pennsylvania is that the name must be unique from the name of any other business in the state. To make sure that the name you would like to use is available, you can conduct a Business Entity Search on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website.

Web Domain Availability

Once you’ve confirmed that your business name is available for use, we recommend confirming that the name is available as a web domain. Purchasing your web domain ahead of time will be important if you would like to create a website for your nonprofit at any point in the future.

After choosing a name for your nonprofit company, the next step is to register your company with the state. We recommend working with a fast and reliable business formation service to complete this process:

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania nonprofits are unique in that they do not have to list an individual registered agent during formation. Instead, the state records registered offices.

What is a registered office? A registered office is the address that is the point of contact between your company and the state. This is where your nonprofit will receive legal documents that are sent to your company from the state of Pennsylvania. 

There aren’t many requirements regarding registered offices, so long as it’s a physical address in the state of Pennsylvania However, many business owners choose to work with a registered agent service (known by the state as commercial registered office providers) thanks to the convenience that these services provide. 

If you still don’t know where your registered office should be, check out our How to Choose a Registered Agent for Your Pennsylvania Nonprofit 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

While Pennsylvania 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.

Pennsylvania also requires that the nonprofit’s officers include:

  • A president
  • A secretary
  • A treasurer

With the exception of the president and any vice presidents, officers can hold multiple titles if the bylaws allow for it.

To learn more about electing a Pennsylvania nonprofit board of directors, read our full guide.

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

One of the requirements that nonprofit companies are required to meet before they are able to apply for 501c3 status is that the company must first adopt bylaws and a conflict of interest policy.

  • Bylaws: Bylaws are rules outlining key operating procedures within your company. This includes procedures such as how board members are elected, the meeting format, and officer titles and responsibilities. 
  • Conflict of Interest Policy: This policy contains rules that are intended to prevent officers/directors from acting in their own interests instead of making decisions that will benefit the company. 

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

Step 5: File the Pennsylvania Articles of Incorporation

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

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 Pennsylvania

File Online

– OR –

Option 2: File by mail

Download Form

State Filing Cost: $125

Mail to:
Pennsylvania Department of State
Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations
P.O. Box 8722
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8722

NOTE: When filing by mail, you must also submit a Docketing Statement.

To learn more, read our How to File Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation in Pennsylvania guide.

Step 6: Get an EIN

The last step you will need to complete in order to form your Pennsylvania nonprofit is securing an EIN from the IRS. Read on to find out what an EIN is and why you will need one: 

What is an EIN? An Employer Identification Number (EIN), sometimes called a Federal Tax Identification Number, is a lot like a Social Security number for business entities. It is a nine-digit number that will be used to legally identify your company. 

Why do I need an EIN? Without an EIN, your nonprofit will be unable to hire employees, open a business bank account, or file federal/state taxes. An EIN, therefore, is a necessity for every organization.

Where do I get an EIN? You can request an EIN (free of charge) by completing a form and sending it to the IRS. This can be done online or by mail. Check out our EIN Lookup article for more detail on this process. 

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