How to Start a Nonprofit in Virginia

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

Step 1: Name Your Virginia Nonprofit
Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in Virginia
Step 3: Select Your Directors & Officers
Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy
Step 5: File the Virginia Articles of Incorporation
Step 6: Get an EIN
Step 7: Apply for 501c3 Status

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Starting a 501c3 Nonprofit in Virginia Is Easy

If your plan is to start a nonprofit in Virginia, you aren’t the first to have the goal of helping those in your community. There are currently 50,333 organizations working in Virginia. These nonprofits employ over 524,000 people, making them an important part of business and industry in the state.

The majority of the nonprofits in Virginia are located in three major cities: Virginia Beach with 8,837, Richmond with 8,108, and Roanoke with 2,495. You’ll find that there are 69 nonprofits in the region that employ 1,000 or more people, and there are another 491 that employ between 101 and 1,000.

The largest employers in the state include:

  • Checkpoint One
  • Inova Health Care Services
  • Liberty University
  • Sentara Hospitals
  • George Washington University  

Another thing to think about is how large some of these nonprofits are. Large organizations, such as Optima Health Plan and the Riverside Healthcare Association Inc., bring in much of the revenue seen by nonprofits in the state. In fact, there are 114 nonprofits that bring in over $100 million each (15 bring in at least $1 billion), and there are another 236 that bring in between $25 million and $100 million annually. There are also over 10,000 nonprofits that bring in $250,000 or less, so there is room for nonprofits of all sizes in the state. 

Some of the types of nonprofits you’ll find in Virginia include those in the arts and culture, health organizations, recreation, sports, and social clubs, religious organizations, and mutual assistance programs. Unlike many states, religious organizations aren’t the most common nonprofits. Instead, educational institutions take the top spot with 7,833 in the state. 

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

Naming your nonprofit is among the first steps you have to take to get started. Your business name has to adhere to Virginia naming requirements, but it should also be easily searchable by potential members and donors. 

Find out more about best naming practices through our How to Name a Nonprofit in Virginia guide.

1. Follow Virginia’s official naming guidelines:

Your organization’s name cannot include:

  • Words or phrases that could make it seem like you do something other than what you set up your nonprofit to do
  • Any grossly offensive terms
  • “Redevelopment” (unless your nonprofit complies with Chapter 190 of the 1946 Acts of Assembly)
  • Organizational designations, like “Inc.,” “Ltd.,” “Incorporated,” or “Company”

You can go over the Code of Virginia’s official guidelines to see the requirements for your nonprofit’s name.

2. Is the name available for use in Virginia? Do a name check availability search using Virginia’s Clerk’s Information System to make sure no one is using the name you want to use.

3. Is the URL available for purchase? See if you can get the URL for your business’s name for your web domain. Although you may not intend to build a website now, you may want to have the URL in the future.

After you choose a name and buy the URL, reach out to a professional service to finalize the Virginia nonprofit formation process. It’s our recommendation to choose a business with positive feedback and excellent results, such as:

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in Virginia

Every nonprofit has to nominate a registered agent in Virginia.

What is a registered agent? This person is the main point of contact between the state and your nonprofit. The resident agent accepts legal documents on behalf of your business.

Who can be a registered agent for your nonprofit? You can use a registered agent service authorized to work in Virginia, yourself, a colleague at the nonprofit, someone who is a resident of the state, or a corporation based in the state. 

Check out our How to Choose a Registered Agent for Your Virginia Nonprofit guide for a more detailed look at finding the right agent for your organization.

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 Virginia 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.

Virginia 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 Virginia nonprofit board of directors, read our full guide.

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

You need to adopt bylaws and a conflict of interest policy before your nonprofit will be eligible to apply for 501c3 status. In fact, you will need to implement both during your first organizational meeting (that’s also when you’ll choose your board of directors and officers). 

  • Bylaws are the rules that dictate how your nonprofit will be run.
  • Your conflict of interest policy is a policy that creates rules that ensure that the board of directors and officers will only make decisions that benefit the nonprofit rather than individuals.

Step 5: File the Virginia Articles of Incorporation

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

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 Virginia State Corporation Commission

File Online

– OR –

OPTION 2: File Form SCC819 by Mail

Download Form

State Filing Cost: $75

Mailing Address:
State Corporation Commission
Office of the Clerk
P.O. Box 1197
Richmond, VA 23218-1197

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

Step 6: Get an EIN

Your nonprofit will need to obtain an EIN in order to:

  • Open a bank account as your nonprofit rather than as yourself
  • Pay your nonprofit’s taxes
  • Hire employees to work with your nonprofit 

What is an EIN? “EIN” is short for “Employer Identification Number,” sometimes called a Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN). This number works like your personal Social Security number does, helping the federal government identify your nonprofit for tax purposes. 

To get an EIN for your nonprofit, apply through the IRS by mail or online. This filing is free, and you can complete it once you form your nonprofit with the Virginia State Corporation Commission. See our EIN Lookup guide to discover more.

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