How to Form a Hawaii Nonprofit Corporation

The steps to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation in Hawaii.

By , Attorney

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 Hawaii corporation, then you apply for tax-exempt status from the IRS and the State of Hawaii. Here are the details.

Create Your Hawaii Nonprofit Corporation

1. Choose who will be on the founding board of directors for your nonprofit corporation.

In Hawaii, your nonprofit corporation must have three or more directors.

2. Choose a name for your Hawaii nonprofit corporation.

The name of your nonprofit corporation cannot be the same as the name of another nonprofit corporation on file with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. To see if your proposed name is available, you can search Hawaii's name database.

3. Prepare and file your nonprofit articles of incorporation.

You will need to create and file nonprofit articles of incorporation with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs office and pay the $25 filing fee (as of June 2020). 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).

The Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs provides 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 Hawaii's nonprofit laws.

4. Prepare bylaws for your Hawaii nonprofit corporation.

You'll need to prepare bylaws that comply with Hawaii 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 Hawaii. 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 Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs -- 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, 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).

6. Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

An EIN is a unique tax identification number for your nonprofit, which you will use on state and federal tax filings. You must have an EIN before you can submit your tax exemption applications. You may submit the free application online via the IRS website.

7. Obtain licenses and submit annual reports

You do not need a statewide business license to operate a nonprofit in Hawaii. However, your city or county might require a local license or permit.

To keep your nonprofit in good standing with the state, you must file an annual report with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. In the report, you will provide updated information about your organization, including contact information and the names of the current directors.

Obtain Your Federal and State Tax Exemptions

Now that you have created your nonprofit corporation, you can obtain your federal and Hawaii state tax exemptions. Here are the three 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 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.

2. Obtain your Hawaii state tax exemptions.

Once you have your federal tax exemption, you need to obtain your Hawaii state tax exemption. This may include exemptions from income, property, sales, and other state taxes. Hawaii's Department of Taxation will have a form you need to file to obtain your state tax exemption.

3. Other state reporting and registration requirements.

Depending on your activities and the size of your organization, you may need to register with the Hawaii attorney general before doing any fundraising activities. Check with Hawaii's attorney general website for additional rules or, for more information about fundraising registration requirements, see Nonprofit Fundraising Registration Digital Guide: The 50-State Guide, by Ronald J. Barrett and Stephen Fishman (Nolo).

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