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Kevin C. Cruz

Establishing a non-profit organization is one way of creating lasting change in our society. The process of creating a non-profit comes with some legal and administrative steps that can be taken care of smoothly if careful planning and attention to detail are kept in mind. In this article, our Iowa business attorneys will guide you through the essential steps to register a non-profit organization.

What is a Non-Profit?

Before covering the registration process, it is vital to know the basics of a non-profit organization. A non-profit organization is formed to serve a charitable, educational, religious, scientific, or public purpose. The way that non-profits are structured prohibits the distribution of profits to individuals or other shareholders. Federal and state laws govern non-profits, and their activities tend to be tax-exempt.

Choose a Name

It is crucial to select an appropriate name for your non-profit. You will want to pick something that is unique enough to avoid any confusion with other existing organizations but still reflects your individual mission. It is always wise to conduct a thorough search before finalizing a name to ensure that it is not already being used by another entity. This can be done by checking the Iowa Secretary of State's website or using their online database to verify name availability.

Draft Bylaws

Bylaws serve as the internal operating rules for your non-profit organization. Bylaws will outline how the organization will be run, including procedures for electing directors, holding meetings, and making decisions. There are no specific state requirements for bylaws in Iowa, but creating comprehensive bylaws for your organization can help keep a coordinated non-profit that complies with the state and federal laws. Do not hesitate to seek legal advice if you need to ensure your bylaws cover all essential elements.  

Form a Board of Directors

In Iowa, a non-profit organization needs to have a board of directors that is responsible for overseeing activities. These individuals should be committed to your organization's mission, and you will want someone who brings diverse skills and expertise to the table. It can be useful to create a recruitment process to identify potential board members and make sure they understand their responsibilities. Board members will meet regularly to discuss organizational matters and make informed decisions for the non-profit.

Incorporate Your Organization

You will need to incorporate your non-profit to establish a legal entity in Iowa. This will be done with the Secretary of State's office, and more information on the necessary forms and instructions required to incorporate can be found on their website. For more detailed information read our article, Incorporating a Business in Iowa.

non profit handing out food at food drive

Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

For tax purposes, the IRS assigns a unique nine-digit number called an Employer Identification Number or EIN. This number is required for things like opening bank accounts, filing tax returns, and conducting any other financial transactions. An EIN can be established online through the IRS website at no cost.

Apply for Tax Exemption

To gain tax-exempt status, you need to apply for recognition of exemption from the IRS. Most non-profit organizations are eligible for 501(c)(3) status, which exempts them from federal income tax. To apply, complete Form 1023 or the streamlined Form 1023-EZ, depending on your organization's annual gross receipts and assets. Be prepared to provide detailed information about your organization's purpose, activities, and finances.

Register with the Iowa Attorney General

An additional requirement for non-profits in Iowa is registering with the Iowa Attorney General's Office. This registration is required to guarantee transparency and compliance with state regulations. Additionally, be aware of any annual reporting requirements and deadlines for your organization to maintain its active status.

Apply for Necessary Licenses and Permits

Depending on the nature of your non-profit organization's activities, you may need to obtain specific licenses or permits from local or state authorities. Examples include permits for fundraising events or licenses for specific services. Research the requirements relevant to your organization's activities and ensure compliance to operate legally.

Develop a Fundraising Plan

Fundraising is crucial for sustaining the activities of your non-profit organization. Create a comprehensive fundraising plan that outlines your strategies for generating financial support. Consider various methods such as grants, donations, events, and online fundraising platforms. Familiarize yourself with Iowa's laws and regulations regarding charitable solicitations to ensure compliance when conducting fundraising activities.


The process of registering a non-profit in Iowa might involve additional steps and requirements depending on your specific organization's missions and activities. It is always advisable to consult an Iowa attorney to be sure your non-profit follows all legal and regulatory obligations.

Establishing a non-profit organization requires dedication, passion, and careful planning. By following the steps outlined in this article, you'll be well on your way to creating a successful non-profit organization that positively impacts your community in Iowa.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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