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6) Incorporate your Organization

  • Get legal. Incorporation has several important benefits. It limits personal liability, lends credibility to your work, and enhances the status of the animals under your care. Once your group obtains 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), donations to your work will be tax-deductible, which encourages larger gifts. Additionally, incorporating and obtaining your tax-exempt status becomes essential as your group grows. Failure to comply with IRS tax codes and state laws relating to charitable donations can have serious legal ramifications for your organization.

  • What to do first. Start by registering the corporate name of your organization and gathering the necessary paperwork you will need. Name registration and incorporation paperwork is usually available from your state’s Secretary of State Office or Corporation Commission. Forms for filing your 501(c)(3) application are available from the IRS. You may also need to file with your state for a certificate to solicit donations and for local and state sales tax exemption. This is often done through the state’s Attorney General’s office.

  • Where to call. You can call the IRS at 1-800-TAX FORM or visit its website. It’s not uncommon for emerging organizations to meet with an attorney for help through the process of applying for incorporation and tax exemption, but it is not a requirement. If you need help hire a trusted legal expert.

    You can also call your State House of Representatives to get the phone number for your Secretary of State and Attorney General’s office. Ask for information on:
    • Registering the corporate name
    • Incorporating a nonprofit
    • Any other regulations that apply to charitable nonprofit organizations
  • Ensure that your bylaws meet requirements. Your organization’s bylaws must be in compliance with both your state and federal government requirements. For this reason, it’s important to do some research. Boilerplate” bylaws are available at your local law library. Looking at other local organizations’ bylaws can also be helpful. Consider the wording carefully and keep the bylaws simple.
What’s in a Name?

Consider your organization’s name carefully. It’s possible to change a corporate name, but it’s much better to get it right the first time! Name changes are expensive, time-consuming, and confusing to donors.

When thinking about the name, consider how the name will sound and what it will imply to an individual learning about your group for the first time?

Use your group’s name to make a clear statement about what you do to help animals. For example, the name Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals implies that the group performs cruelty investigations. The term “rescue” suggests that rescue services are provided for animals. A geographic name indicates that only a restricted area is served.

Try to select a name that is:

  • Distinctive
  • Descriptive
  • Clearly denotes what your group is about

Avoid names that are:

  • Common (such as adopt-a pet, save-a-pet, p.a.w.s.)
  • Similar to another organization
  • Very long and complicated

Next Step: Manage Your Dollars with Sense