How to Start a Nonprofit in Virginia?


Starting a nonprofit organization in Virginia can be a rewarding experience, but it also requires a significant amount of planning and work. In this blog post, we will walk you through the steps you need to take to start a nonprofit in Virginia, from creating a mission statement to obtaining tax-exempt status.

Develop a Mission Statement

The first step in starting a nonprofit organization is to develop a mission statement. A mission statement is a brief statement that outlines the purpose and goals of your organization. It should be clear, concise, and easy to understand. The mission statement should be able to communicate the values and objectives of the organization in a single sentence. It is the foundation for all of the organization's activities and it will guide the organization's decision making. It will also help attract donors, volunteers, and partners that share the same values and objectives.

Form a Board of Directors

Once you have a mission statement, the next step is to form a board of directors. A board of directors is a group of people who are responsible for the overall direction and management of the organization. In Virginia, a nonprofit organization must have at least three directors. The board of directors should be composed of individuals who are committed to the mission of the organization, have the skills and experience to help guide it, and are willing to make a long-term commitment. The board of directors is responsible for making important decisions such as the organization's budget, fundraising, and program development.

Choose a Name and Register with the State

The next step is to choose a name for your organization and register it with the state of Virginia. The name you choose should be unique and not already in use by another organization. You should also check for any trademarks that may be similar to the name you want to use. Once you have chosen a name, you will need to file articles of incorporation with the State Corporation Commission. The articles of incorporation include information about the organization's purpose, board of directors, and registered agent. The registered agent is the person or organization that will be responsible for receiving legal documents on behalf of the organization.

Obtain Tax-Exempt Status

Once your organization is registered with the state, you will need to apply for tax-exempt status. In Virginia, this can be done by filing Form 1023 with the IRS. Form 1023 is the application for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This form requires detailed information about the organization's activities, finances, and governance. It is important to provide accurate and complete information to avoid delays or denial of tax-exempt status. It can take several months for the IRS to process your application, so it's important to plan accordingly.

Create Bylaws and Operating Procedures

The next step is to create bylaws and operating procedures for your organization. Bylaws are the rules that govern the organization's internal operations, such as the election of officers, meetings, and decision-making processes. Operating procedures are the specific procedures that the organization will follow to carry out its mission. Bylaws and operating procedures should be developed in consultation with the board of directors and should be reviewed and updated regularly. They should also be in compliance with state and federal laws.

Fundraising and Finances

Once your organization is up and running, you will need to start fundraising and managing finances. In Virginia, there are several ways to raise funds, including grants, donations, and fundraising events. It is important to create a budget and financial plan to help ensure the organization's long-term sustainability. A budget will help you track expenses and revenue, and plan for future expenses. Financial reports should be prepared regularly and reviewed by the board of directors to ensure that the organization is financially healthy.

Compliance and Reporting

Finally, it's important to stay compliant with all state and federal regulations and to file required reports on a regular basis. In Virginia, this includes filing annual reports with the State Corporation Commission and providing annual financial statements to the IRS. Compliance with laws and regulations not only ensures the organization's legal standing, but it also helps to maintain public trust and credibility. Failure to comply with laws and regulations can result in fines, penalties, and even revocation of tax-exempt status. It's important to have a designated staff or board member responsible for ensuring compliance and keeping records of all required reports.
In addition to compliance with laws and regulations, it's important to maintain transparency and accountability to the public and stakeholders. This includes providing regular updates on the organization's activities and finances, and being responsive to any inquiries or concerns.


In summary, starting a nonprofit organization in Virginia requires careful planning and a significant amount of work. From creating a mission statement to obtaining tax-exempt status, each step is crucial to the success of the organization. By following these steps, and seeking professional advice if needed, you will be on your way to creating an organization that makes a positive impact in your community.