When starting a nonprofit organization or charity, many focus primarily on achieving their mission. However, having the proper legal documents in place from the start can be a vital way to support that mission and protect the nonprofit’s long-term goals. What documents should you have when founding a nonprofit organization?
1. Articles of incorporation
One of the most important documents to create when starting a nonprofit organization is the articles of incorporation. Filing your articles of incorporation establishes your nonprofit as a business and outlines various foundational details about the nonprofit. These details include your nonprofit organization’s name, the address from which it operates and other information. Articles of incorporation formalize your nonprofit’s structure and can illustrate any operating restrictions necessary for protecting its nonprofit status.
While the articles of incorporation include basic details about a nonprofit, the bylaws provide more detailed guidance on leading your organization. The bylaws for your nonprofit include instructions for a variety of situations, including:
- How the nonprofit will keep records for meetings and other details of operations
- When and where the nonprofit will hold annual meetings
- How board members can be added or removed
- How the board must notify members of meetings
- How often the board must hold meetings
- How the nonprofit will compensate people in leadership
- How the nonprofit will handle conflict
- How the board can dissolve the nonprofit
While regulations vary from state to state, many states – including Wisconsin – require nonprofits to adopt bylaws.
3. Forms for establishing tax-exempt status
4. Minutes from organizational meetings and board meetings
Keeping clear records can be critical as you operate a nonprofit. Keeping minutes from meetings before the start of operations and other meetings moving forward creates a record of the decisions the nonprofit’s leadership makes and the reason for those decisions. Meeting minutes can also keep board members informed even if they did not attend the meeting or if they had technical difficulties that impacted their attendance at remote meetings.
5. Legal documents for daily operations
What documents will your nonprofit need for its daily operations?
If you have employees, employment contracts may be important, as well as personnel policies.
If you rely on volunteers’ assistance, creating volunteer agreements and waivers can protect your business whenever someone gives their time to the organization. If you want to protect your branding, registering a trademark for your logo and other information can formalize those protections. If contractors and subcontractors will work for your organization, creating base contracts can streamline agreements with these outside parties.
Each nonprofit organization and its goals are unique, and the documents you create should be tailored to those specific goals. It is important to have personalized guidance to help you create documents to help your organization achieve its specific mission. With the proper legal advice as you develop organizational documents and establish your organization, you can lay the groundwork for achieving your nonprofit’s goals.