Most nonprofits are 501(c)(3) organizations, which means they are formed for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes and are eligible for federal and state tax exemptions. To create a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, first you need to form a Oklahoma nonprofit corporation. Then you apply for tax-exempt status from the IRS and the state of Oklahoma. Here are the details.
Form Your Oklahoma Nonprofit Corporation
First, you need to form a nonprofit corporation under Oklahoma state law (Oklahoma General Corporation Act (“GCA”), Title 18, Section 1001).
1. Choose your incorporators and the initial directors for your nonprofit
Oklahoma requires that you have a minimum of three incorporators to form a nonprofit. Your incorporators can be individuals, partnerships, associations, or corporations, and can be residents of or domiciled in any state.
You must have a minimum of one director on your board. The name and mailing address of your initial director or directors is included on your certificate of incorporation.
2. Choose a name for your Oklahoma nonprofit corporation
The name of your nonprofit corporation must be distinguishable from the name of any other corporation on record with the Secretary of State at the time of filing or during the preceding three years. It also must be distinguishable from the name of any other type of business entity on record at the time of filing. Your nonprofit’s name must contain one of the following words: “association,” “company,” “corporation,” “club,” “foundation,” “fund,” “incorporated,” “institute,” “society,” “union,” “syndicate,” “limited,” or one of the abbreviations “co.,” “corp.,” “inc.,” or “ltd.”
To see if your proposed name is available, you can call the Secretary of State’s office or search the Oklahoma business name database on the Secretary of State’s website. You can reserve a name for 60 days with the Secretary of State which will prevent another nonprofit or business from registering the name while you prepare and file your articles.
3. Prepare and file your nonprofit articles of organization
You create your nonprofit entity by filing a certificate of incorporation with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. Your articles of organization will include basic information such as:
- the name of your nonprofit
- its registered agent and registered address
- its duration
- the purpose for which it is formed
- the number of directors
- the name and address of the initial director or directors
- the names and addresses of the incorporators, and
- an email address for the nonprofit.
The Secretary of State has a fillinable articles of incorporation form for not for profits on its website which you can use to create your nonprofit corporation. Complete and file your articles following the instructions provided with the form.
The articles form available from the state has the minimal information necessary to create a nonprofit in Oklahoma. It does not include language required by the IRS to obtain 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. To receive tax-exempt status from the IRS, you'll need to have additional specific language in your articles, including:
- a statement of purpose that meets IRS requirements
- statements that your non-profit will not engage in prohibited political or legislative activity, and
- a dissolution of assets provision dedicating your assets to another 501(c)(3) organization upon dissolution.
For more information on IRS requirements for tax exemption, including sample language, see IRS Publication 557, Tax-Exempt Status for Your Organization, available on the IRS website.
Make sure you include both the state and federal tax-exempt required language in the articles you create.
4. Prepare bylaws for your Oklahoma nonprofit corporation
Before you file your articles of organization, you’ll need to have bylaws that comply with Oklahoma law. Your bylaws contain the rules and procedures your corporation will follow for holding meetings, electing officers and directors, and taking care of other corporate formalities required in Oklahoma. Your bylaws do not need to be filed with the state -- they are your internal operating manual.
5. Hold a meeting of your board of directors
Your first board meeting is usually referred to as the organizational meeting of the board. The board should take such actions as:
- approving the bylaws
- appointing officers
- setting an accounting period and tax year, and
- approving initial transactions of the corporation, such as the opening of a corporate bank account.
After the meeting is completed, be sure to create minutes that accurately record the actions taken by the board.
6. Set up a corporate records binder
You should set up a corporate records binder for your nonprofit to hold important document such as articles of incorporation, bylaws, and minutes of meetings. For more information, as well as minutes forms, consent forms, and other resolutions, see Nonprofit Meetings, Minutes & Records, by Anthony Mancuso (Nolo).
Obtain Your Federal and State Tax Exemptions
Now that you have created your nonprofit corporation, you can obtain your federal and Oklahoma state tax exemptions. Here are the steps you must take to obtain your tax-exempt status:
1. File your Form 1023 federal tax exemption application
To obtain federal tax-exempt status, complete and file IRS Form 1023 with the IRS. This long and detailed form asks for lots of information about your organization, including its history, finances, organizational structure, governance policies, operations, activities, and more. For more information, see Nolo's article How to Obtain 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Status for Your Nonprofit. For line-by-line instruction on how to complete the form, see How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation, by Anthony Mancuso (Nolo).
2. Obtain your Oklahoma state tax exemptions.
Nonprofits who receive 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS are generally automatically exempt from Oklahoma’s income tax. For information and filing requirements for exemptions from other state taxes, including sales or use and property taxes, check with Oklahoma’s tax agency.
3. Other state reporting and registration requirements.
Depending on your activities and the size of your organization, you may need to register with the state before doing any fundraising activities. The Secretary of State has a Charitable Organization packet on its website with information and forms about fundraising and registration requirements for nonprofits.