How to Start a Nonprofit in Washington?


Starting a nonprofit organization in Washington can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, but it can also be a complex and challenging process. There are many steps that need to be taken in order to ensure that your nonprofit is compliant with state and federal regulations, and that it is able to achieve its mission and serve the community effectively. In this blog post, we will provide an overview of the steps that you need to take in order to start a nonprofit in Washington, and provide some tips and resources to help you along the way.

Determine the Purpose

Before starting a nonprofit, it's important to have a clear understanding of its purpose and mission. This will guide all of your decisions and help you stay focused on your goals. Consider what problem or need you are trying to address, and how your nonprofit will address it.

Choose a Name and Register

Once you have a clear understanding of your nonprofit's purpose, you'll need to choose a name for it. Your name should be unique and not too similar to any existing organizations. You can check the availability of a name by searching the business name database at the Washington Secretary of State's website. After you have chosen a name, you will need to register your nonprofit with the state. This can be done by filing articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State's office.

Obtain Tax-Exempt Status

In order to be eligible for tax-exempt status, your nonprofit must be organized and operated for specific exempt purposes as defined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The most common exemption for nonprofit organizations is 501(c)(3) status, which allows the organization to be exempt from federal income tax and allows donors to deduct contributions on their federal income tax returns. To apply for tax-exempt status, you will need to file Form 1023 with the IRS.

Create Bylaws and Hold an Organizational Meeting

Bylaws are the rules and regulations that govern your nonprofit. These can include information on how the organization will be run, who the directors are, and how meetings will be conducted. It's important to have your bylaws in place before holding an organizational meeting, as they will guide the meeting and ensure that it is run smoothly.

Obtain Necessary Licenses and Permits

To legally operate a nonprofit, you will need to obtain any necessary licenses and permits. These can vary depending on the type of nonprofit and the activities it will be involved in. For example, if your nonprofit will be hosting events or serving food, you will need to obtain a food service permit.

Set up Financial Systems

As a nonprofit, it's important to have a good system in place for tracking and reporting financial information. This will help you stay organized, keep accurate records, and comply with any necessary regulations. Some important steps to take include opening a separate bank account, creating a budget, and setting up a system for accepting donations.

Build a Board of Directors

A board of directors is responsible for overseeing the nonprofit and making sure that it is fulfilling its mission. It's important to have a strong and dedicated board in place to help guide the organization and provide support. Consider recruiting people who have skills and experience that will be beneficial to the nonprofit, and make sure that everyone on the board is committed to the mission of the organization.

Develop a Fundraising Plan

Fundraising is an important part of running a nonprofit, as it allows you to raise the money you need to fulfill your mission. A good fundraising plan will include a variety of strategies for raising money, such as grant writing, hosting events, and soliciting donations. Be sure to research different fundraising methods, and choose the ones that will work best for your nonprofit.

Build a Strong Team

A nonprofit is only as strong as the team behind it. As you begin to build your nonprofit, it's important to recruit people who are passionate about your mission and have the skills and experience needed to help you achieve your goals. This includes hiring staff, volunteers and interns to assist with various tasks, such as marketing, fundraising, and program development.

Create a Marketing and Communications Plan

Marketing and communications are key to the success of any nonprofit. A solid plan will help you raise awareness about your organization, attract donors and volunteers, and ultimately achieve your mission. Your plan should include strategies for reaching your target audience, such as social media, email marketing, and traditional advertising.

Collaborate with Other Organizations

Collaborating with other organizations can be a great way to expand your reach and impact. Look for organizations that share your mission or values and consider partnering with them on projects or campaigns. This can help you leverage each other's resources and reach new audiences.

Stay Compliant

Running a nonprofit involves a lot of legal and regulatory compliance. This includes registering and obtaining licenses, following tax laws and regulations, and maintaining accurate financial records. It's important to stay on top of these requirements to avoid any legal issues down the road.


In conclusion, starting a nonprofit in Washington requires a lot of planning, effort, and dedication. However, by following these steps and staying organized, you can set your organization on the path to success. Remember to stay focused on your mission, build a strong team, and stay compliant with all legal and regulatory requirements. With hard work and determination, you can make a real difference in your community and beyond.