We have officially received news that our 501(c)3 status has been approved as of 1Aug23! We are waiting until the approval letter arrives in the mail to start networking in our local community and applying for donations and grants.
Thanks to another non-profit organization I was able to learn how to apply for my first 501(c)3 and begin really making progress in my field. Unfortunately there are relatively few resources that explain how exactly to go about obtaining non profit status so I will explain it here and hopefully it will simplify things and help you achieve your goals and benefit your community!
Step 1 Apply for an EIN
Before you file for your non profit status you need a Employment Identification Number (EIN). You can obtain this easily on the IRS.gov website. If you try to go through a third party or third party website like IRS.com they will charge you to fill out the exact same form you would fill out for free on the .gov website. Don't fall for this ploy. You should get an instantly generated EIN.
Step 2 Apply for incorporation as a non profit in your state
In the state of Florida you go to Sunbiz.org to file for incorporated non profit status. You will fill out and answer a bunch of questions which act as your articles of incorporation. This is a document the spells out how your organization operates. Everything from your nonprofit purpose to your election system for officers. You will need at least 3 directors/officers. After filing you wait for that to come back approved. If there are no issues its pretty fast and it costs less than $100.
Step 3 Apply for any local permits
In the state of Florida you need a permit for solicitations of contributions. If you are eligible the fee for this permit can be waived. You need this permit to even ask for donations which you can do as soon as your non profit status with the state comes back, but it will not be tax exempt until you finish your 501(c)3. Also in the state of Florida you need a Rehabilitation permit to rehabilitate native wildlife. In my case I am sub permitting. If you want your own permit you have to study a brief guide and take a test scoring over 80% on ALL native wildlife not just what you want to do. You can also do 1000 hours of volunteering and 1 year of experience to apply for the permit. Then you pay your permit fee and are subject to inspection before you are allowed to take in any animals. You will have regular inspections at your primary facility which has to be separate from domestic animals and meet standardized caging, cleaning and upkeep requirements depending on the animal(s) you assist. You also have to be able to house a certain number of animals regardless of the species you choose. I think the minimum is 10 cages.
Step 4 Apply for your 501(c)3
This is the big one. You will go to the IRS website to file a 1023 or 1023 EZ depending on your situation. If this is your first time filing and you are forming a new non profit organization you can fill out the 1023 EZ questionnaire to see if you are eligible for an abridged version of the 1023. If its possible I would recommend it. It is truly E and Z (easy). You will be redirected to a pay.gov website where you will pay for the filing. The 1023 EZ costs $275 whereas the 1023 costs $600. Again I recommend the EZ if you are eligible. The processing times for the 1023 are between 6 months to a year and the processing times for the EZ are between 1-2 months. (Again EZ, there's a theme here) If you need the process expedited you can apply to have it expedited if you meet certain criteria. Namely that your organization is relying on a grant for continued operation and the grant is pending approval of your 501(c)3. Once you have filed you simply wait for your approval letter in the mail. If you have questions there are various IRS hotline numbers to call to help you through it. While they cannot give you tax or filing advice they can walk you through some of the complex fields you have to fill out. Such as the NTEE codes. At some point you will have to establish your purpose of being a non profit and the NTEE codes are the codes which define which specific field your non profit will work in.
Step 5 Maintain your status
The final step is just maintaining your status. For the 501(c)3 this just means annual tax filings to maintain status. The other permits will vary by state, but usually require annual filings or renewals to maintain status by a certain due date. Other than that you just follow the rules to maintain good standing so no politics or influencing of legislation, no criminal activity, etc. Just be good and do good :)
I hope this helps anyone having difficulty attempting to file for the first time. I had some help from another organization in my field, but there was a steep learning curve. I'm making this so you don't have to stress like I did. If you liked this post please like our Google business page or make a donation on the donations page of our website. Every little bit helps.