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Starting a Nonprofit

Before You Begin…

If you’re just starting out, we encourage you to attend the workshop Orientation to Starting a Nonprofit: To Be or Not to Be, which goes through the basic questions to assess your readiness to create a nonprofit.

After you’ve decided to go ahead and formalize your nonprofit, the workshop Starting a Nonprofit and Beyond: Legal Issues and Documents will guide you through the process to apply for federal 501(c)(3) tax exempt status.

Both workshops are held several times each year. Please see our Training Calendar or contact the Nonprofit Center for details.

Why Incorporate?

Incorporating as a nonprofit has many benefits to those with an interest in helping people and building a better community. It’s a way to:

  • Clarify your structure
  • Establish a working Board of Directors to help meet your mission
  • Set up a business identity to open bank and credit accounts
  • Become exempt from paying sales tax on organizational purchases
    (if 501(c)(3) status is granted)
  • Limit personal liability for unintended outcomes of the group’s operations
  • Receive tax-exempt contributions and foundation grants (with 501(c)(3) status)
  • Help ensure that the organization has staying power into the future

Frequently Asked Questions

In what areas should I have knowledge?

  • Fund Development & Grant Writing
  • Board Development & Governance
  • Organizational Development
  • Marketing & Public Relations

How can the Nonprofit Center help?

The Nonprofit Center offers a variety of workshops, consultation services and resources to assist new and existing organizations:


  • 501(c)(3) Legal Issues
  • Grantwriting (Beginner & Advanced)
  • Board Governance & Development
  • Organizational Capacity Building
  • Professional Development


  • Organizational development consulting and financial management services (fee based)
  • Library with many titles focused on related topics
  • Website www.nonprofitcentermilwaukee.org (click on Starting a Nonprofit Organization)
  • 501(c)(3) packet ($10) including the necessary forms for federal tax-exempt status, Wisconsin articles of incorporation, sample by-laws and more.

What must be in place before filing for 501(c)(3) status?

  • Incorporation with the State of Wisconsin
  • A federal EIN number
  • Board of Directors (minimum of 3 members)
  • Organizational by-laws

Does nonprofit incorporation cost money?

Yes: Registering with the state as a nonstock not-for-profit corporation (articles of incorporation) costs $35.

If mailing in the federal tax exempt status application it costs $850 (Regardless of budget size). If you file electronically using the IRS’s Cyber Assistant, it costs $200.You may also incur legal fees if you hire an attorney to help set up the nonprofit.

Online Resources for Nonprofits


www.nonprofitcentermilwaukee.org - Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee

Click “Starting a Nonprofit” for links to information on fiscal sponsorships, federal and state forms, tax exempt information and law resource library. Click on “Other Nonprofit Information” for links to information on board development, fundraising and professional associations.

www.nonprofitmilwaukee.org - The Nonprofit Portal

The Nonprofit Portal of Greater Milwaukee connects you to online information resources, training and learning events, news, and local organizations with a focus on nonprofit management.


www.jobsthatserve.com - Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee

Find the right people to meet your mission through Jobs that Serve, the only website in Wisconsin solely dedicated to nonprofit employment opportunities.


www.volunteermilwaukee.org - Volunteer Center of Greater Milwaukee

The Volunteer Center, a service of the Nonprofit Center, is Milwaukee’s primary resource for volunteerism. This site allows member nonprofits to post volunteer needs and has a searchable database for those looking for opportunities. You can also look here for potential board members.

Grants & Funder Directories

www.dfwonline.org - The Donors Forum of Wisconsin

The Donors Forum of Wisconsin allows you to fill out just one common grant application for various foundations in the state. They also offer trainings and the first-ever State of Wisconsin Philanthropy Report (2009).

www.law.marquette.edu/jw/library - Marquette University Law Library

MU’s Law Library offers a complete, current foundation directory indexed by interest areas of the funders. Search for “Foundation Directory” to order online, viewable at no cost at the library.

Legal Advice

www.m-linc.org - Milwaukee Legal Initiative for Nonprofit Corporations

Marquette University Law School’s M-LINC can provide free or low cost legal advice on matters that concern nonprofit organizations.

Name Availability

www.wdfi.org/apps/CorpSearch/Search.aspx? - State of Wisconsin

This database search allows you to see if the name you have in mind for your organization is already being used by another nonprofit or for-profit corporation in the state of Wisconsin.

Business Planning

www.sba.gov - U.S. Small Business Administration

The SBA website will provide you with a sample business plan and other planning resources that can be applied to nonprofits.

Not finding the help you need? Contact us at info@nonprofitcentermilwaukee.org or (414) 344-3933

Starting a Nonprofit Organization - Resources

Online Resources:

How to Start a Nonprofit Organization 
An overview from the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits.

Sample bylaws from the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits. Be certain they conform to the requirements in your state.

The Online Nonprofit Center at Idealist.org provides the answers to some frequently asked questions. (Formerly from Putnam Barber and Associates)

Fiscal Sponsorship
An alternative to creating a new nonprofit organization.

501(c)(3): To Be Or Not To Be
Anthony Mancuso asks and answers the right questions. If you're thinking of starting a nonprofit, take a look at this. Courtesy of The Grantmanship Center Magazine.

IRS Publications
Download IRS publications in PDF format.

State of Wisconsin Forms
Print State of Wisconsin forms.

Nonprofit Types
There is more than one type of nonprofit organization under the IRS code. This chart lays them out

Tax Exemption Information
This IRS page is a good place to begin learning about tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.

Nonprofit Law Resource Library
An excellent source of nonprofit legal information.

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The Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee
2819 West Highland Boulevard
Milwaukee, WI 53208-3217
Phone: (414) 344-3933
Fax: (414) 344-7071
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If you have questions, comments or suggestions email staff at info@nonprofitcentermilwaukee.org