Frequently Asked Question

How do you start a nonprofit corporation?

he National Council of Nonprofits does not offer technical assistance in starting up nonprofit organizations. It’s important to understand the legal requirements in the state where the nonprofit will operate before you begin. Please read our guidance on starting a nonprofit organization. Before you begin the process, research your cause to see if there are nonprofits already established in your area with the same or a similar mission. If so, you might consider collaborating through a fiscal sponsorship arrangement instead of establishing a new organization. It’s also a good idea to contact the state association of nonprofits in your state for state-specific guidance. We also encourage you to subscribe to the Council of Nonprofits

Where can I find a list of all the nonprofits in the US?

The IRS publishes a searchable master list of all nonprofits recognized as tax-exempt by the IRS that can be searched by state. Additionally, Pro Publica offers a database that can be used to search over 1.8 million tax returns from tax-exempt organizations. These databases are of raw IRS data that show financial details, such as executive compensation and revenue/expenses.

How do I know whether a certain nonprofit is registered and tax-exempt?

Nonprofit corporations may be “registered” in the state where they were originally incorporated, and with the IRS, if they are, or were at one time, tax-exempt. So, to learn whether a nonprofit is in “good standing” as a nonprofit corporation in its state of incorporation, you’ll need to check with the applicable state agency. To learn whether the nonprofit is “registered” for fundraising solicitation purposes in the state where it operates or other states, you’ll have to check with the applicable state agency that regulates fundraising. To learn whether any particular nonprofit organization is registered as a tax-exempt nonprofit, use EO Select Check. You can also look up nonprofits by name from these websites: GuideStar or Citizen Audit.

What is a public charity?

Public charities are those tax-exempt nonprofits recognized under IRS Code section 501(c)(3) that receive funding from the public at large (as opposed to private foundations that receive their funding from a limited number of sources, typically from interest earned on the corpus of an endowment). Financial support for public charities can come in the form of donations from individuals as well as earned income, and from contracts/grants from the government (for services the nonprofits provides for the state/local or federal government), private foundations, corporate foundations, community foundations, donor advised funds, and other nonprofits. Public charities must demonstrate sufficient public support in order to maintain their favored tax status. Many organizations classified as public charities, such as churches, schools and hospitals, provide services directly to their intended beneficiaries. However, charitable nonprofits can also help other public charities operate by providing financial support or other resources. Note that, grants to individuals (whether from a private foundation or a charitable nonprofit) must be approved by the IRS.

Is there a way to search for charitable nonprofits by mission?

Yes. The IRS and National Center for Charitable Statistics use NTEE codes to identify the primary missions of charitable nonprofits. Note that there are over 1.3 tax-exempt organizations registered with the IRS, so your search could be an arduous one! You can search by NTEE code.

What is the difference between a “nonprofit” and an “NGO”?

The term “non-governmental organization” was first coined in the Charter of the United Nations in 1945. “NGO” is most often used to refer to a charitable nonprofit that is operating outside the US. An NGO can be any kind of organization, provided that it is independent from government influence and is not organized for personal profit. In contrast, the term “nonprofit” is the term used in the US to refer to organizations that are structured as nonprofit corporations, whether or not they are also designated as tax-exempt by the IRS.  Read more about the origin of the term NGO.