How to Start a Nonprofit Corporation in Wisconsin (2024 Guide)

Start a Nonprofit Corporation in Wisconsin

If you would like to form a corporation in Wisconsin, you should also consider starting a nonprofit corporation since it plays a crucial role in our society, addressing a wide range of community needs and positively impacting countless lives. Starting a nonprofit corporation in Wisconsin can be rewarding, but it requires careful planning, dedication, and a thorough understanding of the various legal and financial requirements.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through Starting a Nonprofit Corporation in Wisconsin, from initial planning to ongoing compliance, so that you can make a meaningful difference in your community.

If you want to know more about nonprofit corporations, you may read the whole article until the end, which the Webinarcare Editorial Team had thorough research. Before starting a nonprofit corporation in Wisconsin, you must cross-check all the factors and be guided by the steps.

What is a Nonprofit Corporation?

A nonprofit corporation is a legal entity formed under a given state’s specific laws and regulations in the United States. It is created to serve a public or mutual benefit rather than generating profits for its owners or shareholders. Nonprofit corporations typically operate in education, healthcare, social services, arts and culture, and environmental conservation.

In a nonprofit corporation, any surplus income the organization generates is reinvested into its programs and services rather than distributed to shareholders or members. This allows nonprofits to focus on fulfilling their mission and addressing community needs without the pressure to maximize profits.

An example of a nonprofit corporation in Wisconsin is Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin – A non-profit organization that distributes food to those in need across eastern Wisconsin..

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Steps on How to Start a Nonprofit Corporation in Wisconsin

To start a nonprofit corporation in Wisconsin, you must follow the below steps that, include research and planning, choosing a corporate name, appointing directors, filing for Articles of Incorporation, creating corporate bylaws, holding the initial board of directors, issuing stock, obtaining required licenses and permits, registering with state tax agencies, Annual reporting and ongoing compliance. All these steps are basic ones. It can be changed depending on the type of corporation you form and the nature of your business.

Step 1: Research and Planning

Before starting your nonprofit corporation in Wisconsin, you must research and plan. This stage is critical to the success of your nonprofit, as it will help you refine your mission, identify potential supporters, and avoid pitfalls. By conducting thorough research and developing a well-informed plan, you can establish a nonprofit corporation that makes a real difference in the lives of those you serve.

Step 2: Choose a Name for the Nonprofit

Once you have a clear vision for your Wisconsin nonprofit corporation, it’s time to choose a name. Your organization’s name should be unique, memorable, and reflective of your mission and purpose. Follow these steps to choose and register your nonprofit’s name in Wisconsin:

Consider the Mission and Purpose when Choosing the Name

Your nonprofit’s name should be closely tied to its mission and purpose, making it clear to potential supporters what your organization is about. Choose a name that is meaningful and easy to remember, as this will help with marketing and fundraising efforts.

Check for Name Availability with the Wisconsin Secretary of State

Before registering your nonprofit’s name, you must ensure another organization still needs to use it in Wisconsin. You can do this by checking the Wisconsin Secretary of State ‘s online database or contacting their office directly.

Register the Name

Depending on your Wisconsin ‘s requirements, you may need to register your nonprofit’s name with the Secretary of State. This typically involves completing a name reservation of 120 days or registration form and paying an online reservation fee of $15, and mail reservation fee of $15. Be sure to follow your state’s specific guidelines and procedures for name registration.

To check the availability of your desired corporate name, you can search the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s business name database and Wisconsin Business Name Search.

If your nonprofit corporation plans to operate under a name other than its legal name, you may also need to register a fictitious or “doing business as” (DBA) name.

The DBA filing can be done by two methods, by mail and in person., which costs around $15. In addition, the DBA’s validity in Wisconsin is ten years, which you can file in Wisconsin Secretary of State.

You can check out How to File a DBA in Wisconsin for clearer understanding.

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Step 3: Hire a Registered Agent

Hiring a Registered Agent is essential in starting a nonprofit corporation. Registered Agent is a person or company responsible for receiving important legal documents, tax notices, and other correspondence for your nonprofit corporation. They ensure that your nonprofit corporation remains compliant with state regulations and requirements. There are Wisconsin Registered Agent Services to check in forming Wisconsin Nonprofit Corporation.

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Step 4: Establish Governance and Bylaws

With your nonprofit’s name in place, it’s time to establish your organization’s governance structure and create bylaws. These important documents will outline how your nonprofit will be run, including the roles and responsibilities of board members, the decision-making process, and the procedures for managing finances and record-keeping.

  • Choose the Initial Board of Directors: Your nonprofit’s board of directors will guide your organization’s activities and ensure its long-term success. Choose individuals passionate about your mission, bring diverse skills and expertise to the table, and are willing to commit the time and effort needed to fulfill their responsibilities as board members. In Wisconsin, you need to have at least Three directors for you to operate a nonprofit corporation.
  • Create Bylaws: Your bylaws are the governing document for your nonprofit, outlining the roles and responsibilities of board members, the decision-making process, and the procedures for managing finances and record-keeping. Be sure to cover board meetings, voting, committees, officer positions, conflicts of interest, and amendment procedures. Your bylaws should be tailored to your organization’s needs and requirements and developed in consultation with an attorney experienced in nonprofit law.
  • Hold the First Board Meeting: Once your bylaws have been drafted, hold your first board meeting to review and approve them. This meeting should also include the election of officers, such as the president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. Be sure to document the meeting’s discussions and decisions in meeting minutes, as these records will be important for maintaining your nonprofit’s legal compliance.

Step 5: Incorporate the Nonprofit

The next step in starting your Wisconsin nonprofit corporation is to formally incorporate your organization with the Wisconsin Secretary of State. Incorporation establishes your nonprofit as a separate legal entity and provides limited liability protection for its board members and officers. To incorporate your nonprofit, follow these steps:

Prepare the Articles of Incorporation

The Articles of Incorporation is the legal document formally establishing your nonprofit corporation. This document should include your organization’s name, purpose, Registered Agent, and principal office address. Be sure to follow your state’s specific requirements for the content and format of the Articles of Incorporation.

File the Articles of Incorporation

Once your Articles of Incorporation is complete, please submit them to the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s office, along with any required filing fees. The filing process may vary depending on your state, but it typically involves mailing or submitting the documents online. Keep a copy of the filed Articles of Incorporation for your records.

Filing Articles of Incorporation in Wisconsin may be done with two methods, online and by mail. The Articles of Incorporation fee may vary from different state. However, in Wisconsin, it costs $100 for online and by mail filing.

  • Online Filing: Create an account/Log in to the SOS site, get the e-form, fill it, and submit online. Or get the online PDF, fill it up and upload it back on the site.
  • Offline filing: Send the form by mail to State of WI – Dept. of Financial Institutions, P.O. Box 93348, Milwaukee, WI 53293

Step 6: Apply for State and Federal Tax Exemptions

Your organization may be eligible for state and federal tax exemptions as a nonprofit corporation. Obtaining tax-exempt status can save your nonprofit money and make it more attractive to potential donors. To apply for tax exemptions, follow these steps:

Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

An EIN in Wisconsin is a unique number the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) assigns to your organization. You’ll need this number to apply for tax-exempt status and open a bank account for your nonprofit. You can obtain an EIN by completing the online application on the IRS website or submitting Form SS-4 by mail or fax.

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Apply for Federal Tax-Exempt Status (501(c)(3))

To apply for federal tax-exempt status, you’ll need to complete and submit Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ, depending on the size and complexity of your organization. This application requires detailed information about your nonprofit’s finances, governance, and programs. Be prepared to provide supporting documentation, including your bylaws, Articles of Incorporation, and financial projections. You’ll also need to pay a filing fee, which varies depending on the size of your organization and the form you submit.

Apply for Wisconsin Tax-Exempt Status

In addition to federal tax-exempt status, your nonprofit may be eligible for state tax exemptions. The process for applying for state tax-exempt status varies by state, so research your specific state’s requirements and procedures. This may involve submitting additional forms, documentation, and fees to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Step 7: Obtain the Necessary Licenses and Permits

Depending on your nonprofit’s activities and location, you may need to obtain various licenses and permits to operate legally—research local, state, and federal requirements and apply for any necessary licenses and permits. Be sure to maintain compliance by renewing licenses and permits as needed and staying up-to-date on any regulation changes.

Step 8: Develop a Fundraising Plan and Strategy

Fundraising is critical to the success of your Wisconsin nonprofit corporation, providing the financial resources needed to carry out your mission and programs. Develop a comprehensive fundraising plan that outlines your goals, strategies, and timelines for raising funds. This plan should include various funding sources, such as grants, donations, and special events. Create marketing materials and strategies to promote your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts and engage potential supporters.

Step 9: Open a Bank Account for the Nonprofit

With your legal and financial foundations in place, it’s time to open a bank account for your nonprofit corporation. Choose a bank that offers services tailored to nonprofits and provides the features and support your organization needs. To open an account, you’ll typically need to provide your EIN, Articles of Incorporation, bylaws, and a resolution authorizing the account opening. Establish proper financial controls and procedures to ensure responsible management of the organization’s funds.

You can check out the Wisconsin Best Banks to know which bank will suit your nonprofit corporation.

Step 10: Establish Record-Keeping Systems

Effective record-keeping and reporting are essential for maintaining your nonprofit’s legal and financial compliance and demonstrating transparency and accountability to your supporters. Set up systems for tracking financial transactions, maintaining records of your organization’s activities, and reporting to the IRS, state, and other relevant agencies. Stay up-to-date on reporting requirements and deadlines to ensure your nonprofit remains in good standing. Hiring a CPA in Wisconsin for this reporting system is best.

Step 11: Launch and Promote the Nonprofit

With your Wisconsin nonprofit corporation officially established and your financial and legal foundations in place, it’s time to launch your organization and begin making a difference in your community. Develop a marketing plan to promote your nonprofit’s mission and services, including creating a website, social media presence, and other marketing materials. Network with other nonprofits, community organizations, and stakeholders to build partnerships and collaborations to strengthen your organization’s impact.

Step 12: Ongoing Compliance and Management

Starting a nonprofit corporation is just the beginning – maintaining your organization’s legal and financial compliance is an ongoing responsibility. Stay informed about changes in nonprofit laws and regulations, file required Annual Reports and financial statements, and regularly review and update your bylaws, policies, and procedures as needed. Foster positive relationships with board members, volunteers, and supporters to ensure your nonprofit’s continued success.

Cost of Forming a Nonprofit Corporation in Wisconsin

In forming a nonprofit corporation in Wisconsin, the filing and Annual fees must be paid. Without it, your nonprofit corporation won’t operate. In Wisconsin, the nonprofit costs $100 for online and by mail filing, and should file an Annual Report. You should ensure you comply with all the necessary fees and costs so your Wisconsin nonprofit corporation will run successfully and smoothly.

Is Forming a Nonprofit Corporation in Wisconsin Worth It?

Forming a nonprofit corporation in Wisconsin can be worth it if you are dedicated to a specific cause and prepared to meet the challenges and responsibilities of running a nonprofit organization. It is essential to carefully consider your goals and resources and consult with a Business Attorney in Wisconsin or other professionals experienced in nonprofit formation and management to ensure that you are making the best decision for your situation.

FAQs

What do I need to do to start a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
You’ll need to file articles of incorporation with the Wisconsin Secretary of State.
What should be included in the articles of incorporation?
The articles should include the organization’s name and purpose, as well as information about the governing board and any restrictions on the corporation’s activities.
Do I need a lawyer to start a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
No, but it may be helpful to consult with one to ensure that everything is done correctly.
How long does it take to get approval from the state to start a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
The approval process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
What are the costs associated with starting a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
The filing fee for articles of incorporation is $25.
How often do I need to hold board meetings for my non-profit corporation?
By Wisconsin law, a non-profit corporation must hold at least one annual meeting of its board of directors.
Are there any specific rules about who can serve on the board of directors for a Wisconsin non-profit corporation?
No specific rules, but it’s important to find people who are committed to the organization’s mission.
Is it possible to compensate members of the board of directors for their time and effort?
Yes, but there must be clear guidelines in place to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Do I need to have a registered agent for my non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
Yes, you must list a registered agent when filing your articles of incorporation.
What are the major legal requirements for a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
There are requirements for annual meetings, financial reporting, and record-keeping.
How do I apply for tax-exempt status as a non-profit in Wisconsin?
You’ll need to file Form 1023 with the IRS and then file with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
Is it possible to change the mission of a non-profit corporation after it has been established?
Yes, but you’ll need to file amendments to the articles of incorporation with the Wisconsin Secretary of State.
Can a Wisconsin non-profit corporation generate revenue and make a profit?
Yes, but all profits must be used to further the organization’s mission.
How can a Wisconsin non-profit corporation generate revenue?
There are a variety of ways, such as fundraising, grants and donations, as well as paid services or products related to the organization’s mission.
Do I need to have a certain amount of money or assets to start a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
No, but it may be helpful to have some funding sources in place before starting.
Can a Wisconsin non-profit corporation be dissolved if it is no longer needed?
Yes, it can be dissolved by filing articles of dissolution with the Wisconsin Secretary of State.
How often do I need to file reports with the state as a Wisconsin non-profit corporation?
You’ll need to file an annual report with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.
Can a Wisconsin non-profit corporation have paid staff or employees?
Yes, it can have paid staff or employees as long as they are fulfilling a critical function of the organization.
Can a Wisconsin non-profit corporation operate outside of Wisconsin?
Yes, but it will need to follow other state laws and regulations if it does so.
Is it possible to convert an existing for-profit corporation to a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
Yes, it is possible but there are specific rules that must be followed.
Can a Wisconsin non-profit corporation engage in political activity or endorse political candidates?
No, non-profit corporations are restricted from participating in political activity.
Do I need to have a particular type of insurance as a Wisconsin non-profit corporation?
It’s recommended to have liability insurance, but not required by Wisconsin law.
What is the process for changing the name of a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
You’ll need to file a name change amendment with the Wisconsin Secretary of State.
How can I learn more about Wisconsin-specific laws and regulations for non-profit corporations?
You can consult with an attorney or refer to the Wisconsin Code of Regulations.
Can a Wisconsin non-profit corporation have members?
Yes, it can have members, but it is not required.
What are the potential tax benefits for donors who contribute to a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
Donations may be tax-deductible under certain circumstances.
Can a Wisconsin non-profit corporation operate as a private foundation?
Yes, but it must strictly follow rules governing holding and dispersing funds.
What happens if a Wisconsin non-profit corporation violates its bylaws or fosters conflict of interest?
These infractions can lead to legal and financial implications, and board members need to take proactive action to circumnavigate these issues.
What are the steps to start a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
The first step to start a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin is to file Articles of Incorporation with the Department of Financial Institutions.
How much does it cost to file Articles of Incorporation in Wisconsin?
The filing fee for Articles of Incorporation in Wisconsin is $35 for online filing and $40 for paper filing.
What is a registered agent and do I need one for my Wisconsin non-profit corporation?
Wisconsin law requires every non-profit corporation to have a registered agent, which is an individual or business designated to receive legal and official documents on behalf of the corporation.
Can I name myself as the registered agent for my non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
Yes, you can name yourself as the registered agent for your non-profit corporation in Wisconsin, as long as you have a physical address in Wisconsin.
What other documents do I need to submit with my Articles of Incorporation in Wisconsin?
You need to submit a Certificate of Status, which confirms that your non-profit corporation is in good standing with the state of Wisconsin.
Do I need to obtain any licenses or permits to operate a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
Some non-profit corporations in Wisconsin may need to obtain licenses or permits depending on their activities, such as fundraising or selling goods or services.
What is a 501(c)(3) status and how can I obtain it for my non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
A 501(c)(3) status is a designation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that allows a non-profit corporation to receive tax-exempt status. You can obtain it by filing Form 1023 with the IRS after you have been incorporated in Wisconsin.
How long does it typically take to obtain 501(c)(3) status for my non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
It can take anywhere from 3-12 months to obtain 501(c)(3) status for your non-profit corporation in Wisconsin, depending on your application and any questions or concerns that arise from the IRS.
Can I start fundraising as soon as I file my Articles of Incorporation in Wisconsin?
No, you cannot start fundraising until you have obtained 501(c)(3) status from the IRS and registered with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.
Does a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin have to create bylaws?
Yes, every non-profit corporation in Wisconsin is required to create bylaws that lay out its operational structure and procedures.
Should I hire an attorney to help me start my non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
While hiring an attorney is not required to start a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin, it can be helpful in navigating the process and ensuring that all legal requirements are met.
What is the difference between a non-profit corporation and a for-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
A non-profit corporation in Wisconsin is formed for charitable, religious, educational, or scientific purposes, while a for-profit corporation is formed to engage in commercial activities and generate profits for its shareholders.
Can a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin pay its employees?
Yes, a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin can pay its employees a salary or hourly wage, as long as it is reasonable and in line with market rates.
Are non-profit corporations in Wisconsin required to file an annual report?
Yes, non-profit corporations in Wisconsin are required to file an annual report with the Department of Financial Institutions to maintain their incorporation status.
What is the deadline for filing an annual report for my non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
The deadline for filing an annual report for your non-profit corporation in Wisconsin is March 31st of each year.
Can I operate my non-profit corporation from my home in Wisconsin?
Yes, you can operate your non-profit corporation from your home in Wisconsin, as long as you follow all zoning and business regulations for your particular area.
Do I need to have a Board of Directors for my non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
Yes, every non-profit corporation in Wisconsin is required to have a Board of Directors to oversee its activities and make major decisions.
How many directors are required for a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
A non-profit corporation in Wisconsin must have a minimum of three directors, and there is no limit on the maximum number of directors.
Are there any residency requirements for directors of a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
No, there are no residency requirements for directors of a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin.
What is the role of the president of a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
The president of a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin is responsible for overseeing the organization’s activities and ensuring that its mission is carried out.
Can I be both the president and the treasurer of my non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
Yes, you can hold both roles if you wish, but it is generally recommended to separate the roles to ensure proper financial management and oversight.
What happens if my non-profit corporation in Wisconsin is dissolved?
If your non-profit corporation in Wisconsin is dissolved, any remaining assets will need to be distributed to another non-profit organization or passed to another source according to your organization’s by-laws.
Can I change the name of my non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
Yes, you can change the name of your non-profit corporation in Wisconsin by submitting an amendment to your Articles of Incorporation with the Department of Financial Institutions.
Can I change the purpose of my non-profit corporation in Wisconsin after its formation?
Yes, the purpose of a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin can be changed after its formation with approval from its Board of Directors and a vote from its members.
Can a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin be sued?
Yes, a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin can be sued if it engages in any activity that causes harm, whether it is intentional or unintentional.
Can volunteers be held liable for the actions of a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
Generally, volunteers of a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin are not held liable for its actions unless they engage in deliberate misconduct or illegal activity.
What kind of insurance does a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin need?
A non-profit corporation in Wisconsin may need liability insurance, property insurance, and other types of insurance depending on its activities and the services it provides.
Where can I find more information on starting a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin?
You can visit the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions website for more information on the requirements and regulations for starting and operating a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin.

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Why You Should Start Wisconsin Nonprofit

First and foremost, starting a nonprofit allows you to make a tangible difference in your community. Whether you are passionate about helping homeless individuals, protecting the environment, or advocating for social justice, starting a nonprofit gives you the platform to address the issues that matter most to you. By mobilizing resources and rallying support, you have the power to create positive change and leave a lasting impact on those in need.

Additionally, starting a nonprofit can be a fulfilling way to channel your passions and skills towards a greater cause. Many individuals find purpose and meaning in serving others, and a nonprofit provides a structured and organized way to do so. Whether you have a background in finance, fundraising, marketing, or social work, there is a place for your unique talents within a nonprofit organization.

Moreover, starting a nonprofit allows you to build a strong network of like-minded individuals who share your values and vision. By collaborating with volunteers, community partners, and other nonprofits, you can amplify your impact and reach a wider audience. The spirit of collaboration and collective action is at the heart of the nonprofit sector, and by working together, you can achieve far more than you could on your own.

In addition to the personal and community benefits, starting a nonprofit can also open up new opportunities for professional growth and development. Running a nonprofit requires a diverse skill set, including leadership, communication, budgeting, and strategic planning. By honing these skills in a real-world setting, you can enhance your resume, expand your professional network, and gain valuable experience that can benefit you in future endeavors.

Furthermore, starting a nonprofit allows you to engage with the broader Wisconsin community and contribute to the social fabric of the state. Nonprofits play a vital role in addressing needs that are often overlooked by the government or private sector, such as underfunded schools, food insecurity, and affordable housing. By stepping up to fill these gaps, you can help build a stronger, more resilient community that is inclusive and supportive of all its members.

In conclusion, starting a nonprofit in Wisconsin is a unique opportunity to make a positive impact, connect with others, and grow personally and professionally. While the process may require time, effort, and dedication, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. By taking the first step towards starting a nonprofit, you can embark on a transformative journey that will not only benefit others but also enrich your own life in ways you never thought possible.

Conclusion

Starting a nonprofit corporation is a rewarding and challenging endeavor that requires careful planning, dedication, and a thorough understanding of the various legal and financial requirements. By following the steps outlined in this comprehensive guide, you’ll be well on your way to creating a nonprofit that makes a meaningful difference in your community. As you embark on this journey, remember to stay focused on your mission and your organization’s impact on the lives of those you serve. Never underestimate the power of a passionate, committed team working together to improve the world.

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