How to Start a Nonprofit in South Carolina

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

Step 1: Name Your South 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 South Carolina Is Easy

South Carolina is home to a large number of nonprofit organizations — 29,389 as of April 2023, to be exact. Combined, these companies generate an average annual revenue of $28 billion and own assets totaling $53 billion in value. South Carolina nonprofits also employ 186,401 employees. 

The Clemson University Foundation, Harvest Hope Food Bank, and Leroy Springs and Company are a few of the state’s more well-known nonprofit organizations. South Carolina is also home to dozens of different types of nonprofits, from religious organizations to human service organizations to educational institutions. 

Religious organizations are the largest nonprofit category in South Carolina, accounting for 6,871 organizations. Animal organizations are the second-largest (3,944), and educational institutions are the third-largest (3,248). 

It is health organizations, however, that generate the most revenue of all South Carolina nonprofits. Combined, nonprofit health organizations in South Carolina earn an average of over $12 billion each year in revenue. Public sector, public co-ops, and veteran organizations are the second-highest earning category with over $3.6 billion in average annual revenue. Despite only accounting for 71 of the state’s 29,389 nonprofits, scientific research centers bring in the third-most revenue with a combined yearly average of over $3.5 billion. 

Columbia is the South Carolina city with the most nonprofit organizations (5,346), followed by Augusta with 4,434, Greenville with 4,384 and Charleston with 4,061. 

With statistics such as these, it’s easy to see why South Carolina is a great state to build a successful nonprofit organization. If you would like to get started forming your South Carolina nonprofit, there are a few steps involved before you can start operations. 

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

You can’t form a nonprofit company without having a name for it first. Along with being a necessary part of the business formation process, coming up with a unique name for your company will also help you attract potential members and donors. 

Our How to Name a Nonprofit in South Carolina guide can help you find an effective name for your organization. 

South Carolina’s Naming Guidelines 

South Carolina has two primary requirements for naming nonprofit companies: 

  • The name cannot contain language stating or implying a purpose for the company other than the purposes permitted by the South Carolina Nonprofit Corporation Act and its Articles of Incorporation
  • The name must be different from the name of any other business located in South Carolina 

To see a complete list of rules on naming a nonprofit organization in South Carolina, you can read Article 4 of the South Carolina Secretary of State’s official guidelines

SC Business Name Search 

You can make sure that the name you want is available by conducting a name search on the State of South Carolina website. This will show you if any other businesses in the state are already using the name you search for. 

Domain Name Search

Once you’ve confirmed that the name you want to use is available, you will then want to check and see if it is available as a web domain. Even if you don’t intend to create a website for your nonprofit right away, it’s a good idea to purchase your web domain in advance so that it is sure to be available if and when you need it.

Once you’ve chosen a name and web domain for your company, you can complete the process of forming your South Carolina nonprofit by working with a business formation service to file your company with the state. Our top recommendation for South Carolina business owners is Northwest due to its years of formation experience and excellent customer reviews.

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in South Carolina

Every nonprofit organization in South Carolina is required to nominate a registered agent. 

What is a registered agent? Your company’s registered agent will be responsible for receiving important legal and tax documents on behalf of your company. You can think of a registered agent as your company’s point of contact with the state of South Carolina.  

Who can be my registered agent? Anyone who resides in South Carolina can be nominated as the registered agent for a South Carolina company. This includes the company’s employees as well as its owner. Business entities that are authorized to do business in the state can act as registered agents as well. 

One common solution for South Carolina nonprofit owners is working with a registered agent service, which is our recommendation for anyone who wants the most reliable and hassle-free experience. 

If you still need help choosing a registered agent or registered agent service, see our guide to choosing a registered agent for your South 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 South 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.

Unless otherwise noted in the bylaws, South Carolina 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 South Carolina nonprofit board of directors, read our full guide.

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

Before your nonprofit is able to apply for tax-exempt 501c3 status with the IRS, you will first be required to adopt bylaws and a conflict of interest policy

Bylaws: Bylaws are rules that outline a nonprofit company’s operating procedures. This document will cover considerations such as the roles and terms of officers/board members, meeting guidelines, and board structure. 

Conflict of Interest Policy: A conflict of interest policy is a list of rules designed to prevent officers and board members from acting in their own interest or in the interest of other individual members rather than making decisions that are best for the nonprofit. 

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

Step 5: File the South Carolina Articles of Incorporation

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

To ensure that your nonprofit is eligible to apply for 501c3, be sure to include the 501c3 attachment along with the articles of incorporation.

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 South Carolina.

File Online

– OR –

Option 2: File by mail.

1. Download Articles of Incorporation
2. Download 501c3 attachment

State Filing Cost: $25

Mail to:
Secretary of State
ATTN: Corporate Filings
1205 Pendleton Street, Suite 525
Columbia, SC 29201

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

Step 6: Get an EIN

The next step to forming your South Carolina nonprofit is to get an EIN for your company. An Employer Identification Number (EIN), sometimes known as a Federal Tax Identification Number, is a nine-digit number that is used to identify business entities — a lot like a Social Security number for companies instead of individuals. 

Why do I need an EIN? Your company will be required to have an EIN before it is able to: 

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

Getting an EIN is, therefore, a critical part of forming a nonprofit company in South Carolina.

How do I get an EIN? Thankfully, getting an EIN for your company is both simple and free. You can request a free EIN for your South Carolina nonprofit by contacting the IRS either online or by mail. Check out our EIN Lookup guide to learn more about 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 South Carolina. Use our South Carolina 501c3 lookup table to find all South 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. 

State of South Carolina Quick Links