How to Start a Nonprofit in Washington State

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

Step 1: Name Your Washington 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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Form Your Nonprofit

Starting a 501c3 Nonprofit in Washington Is Easy

Washington is an ideal state to open a nonprofit in, and it’s already home to over 41,272 organizations. These nonprofits bring in over $85 billion in revenue annually and have over $268 billion in assets. Additionally, they employ 461,391 people, providing jobs to many people living in the state. 

By city, you’ll find that Seattle has the most nonprofits, with 21,219 in the state. Those nonprofits employ over 309,000 people and bring in the majority of the revenue ($64 billion). 

But, there are nonprofits located in other places throughout the state, including:

  • Olympia
  • Bremerton
  • Bellingham
  • Kennewick
  • Yakima
  • Wenatchee
  • Mount Vernon

So, no matter where you decide to open your doors, your nonprofit can have a home in Washington. 

There are a few other interesting facts about nonprofits in Washington that you should know, too. For example, there are 1,000 or more employees working at no less than 58 of the nonprofits in the state. These large employers include places like:

  • Providence Health and Services — Washington
  • PeaceHealth
  • MultiCare Health System
  • Swedish Medical Center Foundation

In general, the largest employers are usually hospital systems, universities, community clinics, and religious organizations.

No matter how big or small your nonprofit is, most Washington organizations earn less than $1 million in revenue. That being said, hundreds bring in millions of dollars in revenue annually. In fact, 92 of the organizations in the state breach the $100 million mark each year — with 15 of those bringing in $1 billion or more. Those organizations include places such as:

  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • MultiCare Health System
  • Swedish Medical Center

The kind of nonprofit you should open should ultimately depend on what you are passionate about. There are all kinds of nonprofits in Washington, ranging from religious organizations to foundations and unions. You may want to consider starting one of the less common types of nonprofits for your own, such as social science or medical research centers. These types of nonprofits are underrepresented in the state. 

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

The first step toward opening your nonprofit is choosing a name for it. You need a name that complies with the state’s guidelines and that others are able to find or remember easily. 

Our How to Name a Nonprofit in Washington guide provides more details on Washington’s rules.

1. Follow the naming guidelines for naming your nonprofit:

Washington’s Uniform Business Organizations Code outlines the following rules for nonprofit names:

  • Nonprofits must avoid using words such as: company, incorporated, corporation, limited partnership, partnership, Ltd., or their abbreviations
  • You can use the words “public benefit” only if your organization is a public benefit organization recognized by the Secretary of State and can show that it adheres to the guidelines outlined in the Nonprofit Corporation Act

2. Is the name available in Washington? Perform a name search on the Secretary of State’s website to see if your preferred nonprofit name is available.

3. Can you get the name as a URL? You should try to get your organization’s name as a web domain. Although you might not be ready to make your website at the time of filing, you’ll want it for future use.

After getting your business name and URL, it’s time to talk to a professional service about completing the Washington nonprofit formation process for you. Choose one with a positive record of excellent customer service, such as:

Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent in Washington

You must nominate a registered agent for your organization. A registered agent will accept legal documents on behalf of your company.

Who can be your nonprofit’s registered agent? A registered agent has to be a resident of the state or a corporation based in Washington. You can use a registered agent service, elect yourself, or choose someone else who works with your nonprofit to fulfill this role. 

To learn more about finding a registered agent, read our article on choosing a registered agent for your Washington 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 Washington 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.

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

Step 4: Adopt Bylaws & Conflict of Interest Policy

Before you can become eligible for 501c3 status, you need to create bylaws and a conflict of interest policy for your nonprofit. 

Simply put, bylaws are the rules that go over how your nonprofit is going to be run. Your conflict of interest policy makes sure your board of directors or the officers working for your nonprofit make decisions in the best interests of the nonprofit rather than to benefit themselves.

Keep in mind that your bylaws and conflict of interest policy will need to be adopted during your first organizational meeting. This is the same time during which you’ll appoint your officers and board of directors.

Step 5: File the Washington Articles of Incorporation

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

To ensure that your nonprofit is eligible to apply for 501c3 status, in the Certificate of Formation 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 Washington

File Online

– OR –

Option 2: File by mail.

Download Form

State Filing Cost: $25

Mail to:
Secretary of State
Corporations & Charities Division
801 Capitol Way S
Olympia, WA 98504-0234

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

Step 6: Get an EIN

What is an EIN? An Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN) is the number used by the federal government to identify business entities. An EIN takes the place of a Social Security number.

Why do I need an EIN? Your nonprofit will need an EIN to do several things, including:

  • Opening a business bank account
  • Paying your state and federal taxes
  • Hiring someone to work with your nonprofit

How can I get an EIN? You can file for your EIN after you finish forming your company. This is done for free through the IRS either online or by mail. Check out our helpful EIN Lookup page for more details.

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 Certificate of Formation 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 Washington. Use our Washington 501c3 lookup table to find all Washington 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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