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 an Arkansas corporation, then you apply for tax-exempt status from the IRS and the State of Arkansas. Here are the details.
In Arkansas, your nonprofit corporation must have three or more directors.
The name of your nonprofit corporation cannot be the same as the name of another nonprofit corporation on file with the Arkansas Secretary of State. To see if your proposed name is available, you can search Arkansas’s business database.
You will need to create and file nonprofit articles of incorporation with the Arkansas Secretary of State office. The articles of incorporation need to include basic information such as your nonprofit’s name, your nonprofit’s statement of purpose, certain provisions required for state and federal tax-exempt purposes, and the name and address of your registered agent (the person to whom legal notices should be sent). As of June 2020, the fee is $45 to file online and $50 to submit a paper filing.
The Arkansas Secretary of State has a nonprofit articles of incorporation form -- either a fill-in-the-blank form or a sample on which you can base your articles. To ensure that you’ll receive 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status when you apply with the IRS, you’ll need to include specific language to ensure that you'll receive tax-exempt status, such as a clause dedicating the nonprofit’s assets to another 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization should your nonprofit end. Your state form may include these provisions already but, if yours doesn’t, consult a legal self-help guide such as How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation, by Anthony Mancuso (Nolo), to make sure your articles comply with Arkansas’s nonprofit laws.
You’ll need to prepare bylaws that comply with Arkansas law and 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 Arkansas. For more information, see Nolo’s article Nonprofit Formation Documents: Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and Organizational Minutes or, for help creating your bylaws, see Nolo’s book How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation, by Anthony Mancuso (Nolo). Your bylaws do not need to be filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State -- they are your internal operating manual.
Your first board meeting is usually referred to as the organizational meeting of the board. The board should take such actions as:
After the meeting is completed, minutes of the meeting should be created.
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).
An EIN is a unique 9-digit number, assigned by the IRS. You will use the EIN on the nonprofit's tax filings, bank account, and any other filings with the government. To obtain an EIN, submit the free application via the IRS website.
Depending on your services and location, your nonprofit might need one or more licenses or permits. Check with your local government (city and county) to determine the requirements for your organization.
To keep your nonprofit in good standing with the state, file your annual report with the Secretary of State, due each year on August 1. You have the option to file online or submit a paper copy.
Now that you have created your nonprofit corporation, you can obtain your federal and Arkansas state tax exemptions. Here are the three steps you must take to obtain your tax-exempt status:
To obtain federal tax-exempt status from the IRS, you will need to complete and file IRS Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. 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 line-by-line instructions on how to complete the Form 1023, see How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation, by Anthony Mancuso (Nolo).
Smaller nonprofits may be eligible to file Form 1023-EZ, Streamlined Application for Recognition of Exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This is a much simpler, shorter form that is filed online. Only smaller nonprofits--those with projected annual gross receipts of less than $50,000 and total assets of less than $250,000--are eligible to use the streamlined 1023-EZ application.
See the IRS website for more information on the Form 1023 and Form 1023-EZ filing requirements.
Once you have your federal tax exemption, you need to obtain your Arkansas state tax exemption. This may include exemptions from income, property, sales, and other state taxes. Arkansas’s tax agency will have a form you need to file to obtain your state tax exemption.
Depending on your activities and the size of your organization, you may need to register with the Arkansas attorney general before doing any fundraising activities. Check with Arkansas's attorney general website for additional rules or, for more information about fundraising registration requirements, see Nonprofit Fundraising Registration: The 50-State Guide, by Ronald J. Barrett and Stephen Fishman (Nolo).