How to Start a Nonprofit in Rhode Island

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

Step 1: Name Your Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island Is Easy

As of April 2023, there are 8,534 nonprofit organizations located in Rhode Island — a number that continues to grow each year. Combined, these Rhode Island nonprofits generate more than $16 billion in revenue each year. They also employ a total of 113,096 people and own assets totaling $42 billion in value. 

Brown University, Edesia, and HopeHealth Hospice and Palliative Care are just a few of the state’s successful nonprofit organizations, and there are plenty of others spanning categories such as educational institutions, religious organizations, foundations, and dozens of others.

Foundations are the largest category of Rhode Island nonprofits by number, and there are 2,822 organizations that fall under this category. Educational institutions are the second-largest with 897 organizations, and religious organizations are the third-largest with 640 organizations. 

By revenue, though, it is health organizations that claim first place; Rhode Island’s 199 nonprofit health organizations generate a combined average of almost $6.6 billion per year. Educational institutions come in second with over $3.5 billion in combined yearly revenue, followed by foundations in third place with nearly $1.8 billion. 

These numbers showcase that there are plenty of Rhode Island nonprofits raising enormous amounts of money for their chosen causes. If you would like to add your own company to this growing list of successful nonprofits in this state, we are here to help.

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

Choosing a name for your Rhode Island nonprofit is an important decision. For one, it’s important to choose a name that is easily searchable and one that will appeal to your nonprofit’s target audience. 

Check out our How to Name a Nonprofit in Rhode Island guide to learn more about choosing the most effective name for your nonprofit. 

Following state naming requirements — Along with choosing a name that is searchable and appealing, you will also need to make sure that your name is compliant with Rhode Island business name requirements:

  • A nonprofit company’s name must not use words or phrases that suggest a purpose for the company that is different from the purpose spelled out in its Articles of Incorporation. 
  • If the name isn’t in English, it must still be translated into letters of the English alphabet.

You can check out Rhode Island’s official guidelines to see a complete list of rules for naming a nonprofit company in Rhode Island. 

Checking if a name is available in Rhode Island — Another requirement for naming a Rhode Island nonprofit is that the name you choose must be distinguishable from the name of any other business in the state. To make sure the name you want to use isn’t already being used by another company, you can do a name search on the State of Rhode Island website. 

Obtaining the name as a URL — If you plan to create a website for your nonprofit, it’s important to make sure the name you choose will also be available as a web domain. That way, you have access to it right away (even if you don’t make your website right away).

Once you have chosen a name and web domain for your company, you will need to file your company with the state. The easiest way to do this is to work with a business formation service. If you decide that the convenience of hiring a business formation to file your Rhode Island nonprofit is the right choice for you, we strongly recommend a service with experience and exceptional customer service: 

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in Rhode Island

Every organization in Rhode Island, including nonprofits, is required to nominate a registered agent. Your nonprofit’s registered agent will serve as the company’s point of contact with the state and will be responsible for receiving important legal documents on the company’s behalf. 

Any individual residing in Rhode Island or any business entity authorized to operate in the state can act as the registered agent for a Rhode Island organization. There are also no rules in place preventing you from choosing yourself or someone else within the company to act as its registered agent. However, many business owners choose to work with a registered agent service thanks to the convenience and peace of mind that these services provide. 

For more information on nominating a registered agent for your company, check out our complete How to Choose a Registered Agent for Your Rhode Island 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

Both Rhode Island 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.

Rhode Island also requires that the nonprofit’s officers include:

  • A president
  • A secretary

Officers can hold multiple titles if the bylaws allow for it.

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

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

To qualify for tax-exempt status as a 501c3 nonprofit, your company will first be required to adopt bylaws and a conflict of interest policy. Here is what you need to know about these two important documents: 

Bylaws: Bylaws are a set of rules that outline a nonprofit company’s operating procedures, covering considerations such as the frequency and format of board meetings, how board members are elected, board structure, and so on. 

Conflict of Interest Policy: A conflict of interest policy is a document containing rules intended to prevent directors/officers from acting in their own interest rather than the interest of the company. 

Keep in mind that both of these documents should be adopted at your company’s first organizational meeting (i.e., the same meeting where officers and directors are officially appointed).

Step 5: File the Rhode Island Articles of Incorporation

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

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 Rhode Island.

File Online

– OR –

Option 2: File by mail or in-person.

Download Form

State Filing Cost: $35

Business Services Division
148 W. River Street, Ste. 1
Providence, RI 02904

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

Step 6: Get an EIN

Your Rhode Island nonprofit will be required to have an EIN before it is able to: 

  • File federal or state taxes
  • Open a business bank account 
  • Hire employees 

What is an EIN? An Employer Identification Number (EIN), or Federal Tax Identification Number, is a number that is used to identify business entities, much like how a social security number is used to identify individuals. 

How to Get an EIN — After forming your company, you can contact the IRS to request an EIN. This process is free and can be completed online or by submitting Form SS-4 by mail. To learn more about how to get an EIN for your nonprofit, check out our EIN Lookup page. 

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 Rhode Island. Use our Rhode Island 501c3 lookup table to find all Rhode Island 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. 

State of Rhode Island Quick Links