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How To Start a Nonprofit in Florida

While several steps for starting a nonprofit are similar across states, Florida has some unique considerations for nonprofit formation. The Florida statutes and rules governing nonprofits are complex, requiring patience and attention to detail. Sometimes, professional advice and guidance is necessary.

This article guides you through the steps to form a Florida nonprofit. Learn about the state government agencies you will interact with while starting your business, IRS requirements, the incorporation process, and other common concerns.

See our Nonprofit Organizations section for more information and resources.

Form your nonprofit with confidence. Our trusted partner LegalZoom has packages starting at $99 + filing fees.

Types of Florida Nonprofit Corporations

There are no specific limitations to the types of nonprofit corporations you can open in Florida. But the corporation must be eligible for nonprofit taxation status. This status is generally limited to:

  • Charitable organizations
  • Churches and religious organizations
  • Private foundations
  • Some political organizations
  • Educational organizations
  • Social welfare organizations
  • Some social clubs, civic leagues, labor organizations, and business leagues

Before forming your organization as a nonprofit, make sure it fits one of those categories.

How Much Does It Cost To Start a Nonprofit in Florida?

The total cost to start your nonprofit will vary depending on the specifics of your organization. But expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars.

There are various state filing fees, federal fees, and registration renewal costs. You may also have legal fees if you hire a lawyer or other professional (like a registered agent service). If you have a physical location, you may also have costs associated with local business licenses and zoning permits.

Some expenses to budget for include:

  • Filing articles of incorporation: $35
  • Filing fee for registered agent: $35
  • Business name reservation: $35
  • Charitable organization registration: Sliding scale fee
  • Federal trademark registration: $225 to $600
  • Filing fee for federal tax-exemption from the IRS: $275 to $600

Make sure you check the current pricing on the Florida Secretary of State website.

Step 1: Create and Name Your Nonprofit Business

Creating and protecting a name for your nonprofit should be your first two actions. This process requires some research.

First, create a memorable name that meets state naming requirements. Florida law requires your business name to be unique from any other nonprofit or for-profit company name. Florida law also requires a business name to contain one of the following words or abbreviations designating the organization as a corporation:

  • Inc.
  • Corporation
  • Incorporated
  • Corp.

Second, search the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations corporate names database to ensure the name you have chosen is not in use by any other Florida company.

Corporation names that exist in other states and don't exist in Florida are permissible. But if you want to register nationally or with another state, you must follow the other state's procedures. Federal procedures need following, too.

If your selected business name is available but you are not ready to start your nonprofit, Florida law allows you to reserve it for up to 120 days. To do this, submit your request and a $35 fee to the Secretary of State.

You can only use your new corporation's name once you receive your filing acknowledgment from the Division of Corporations.

Step 2: Trademark Your Name

Next, ensure no one else can use your business name, including online. Make sure the internet domain name is available. If it is, purchase it immediately. This typically only costs a few dollars.

If you want to operate nationally or in other states, you should trademark your nonprofit's name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This process can take significant time and costs between $225 and $600. But your organization's name is protected as a common law trademark while your USPTO application is pending.

Once you receive your federal trademark, register it with the Florida Department of State. You may also trademark your name with just the state, without a federal trademark.

Once your business name is legally yours, you can enforce your trademark right.

Step 3: Appoint a Registered Agent for Service of Process

Florida requires every entity registered with the state to appoint a registered agent for service of process. “Service of process" is the legal procedure of delivering official legal documents. This agent doesn't have to be a lawyer, but they are often the company attorney. The Florida Secretary of State maintains an online list of all registered agents in the state.

Your nonprofit may change registered agents at any time. Include your agent's name and contact information in the initial incorporation papers you file with the state.

If you can't find a qualified person to serve as your registered agent, you can use a registered agent service in your state.

Step 4: Appoint Incorporators

Incorporators are the persons who sign the initial Articles of Incorporation. You only need one person to do this, but you can have more if you choose.

Step 5: Establish a Board of Directors

Every Florida nonprofit must have a board of directors. Florida law requires the board to consist of three or more people over the age of 18, except that one board member may be as young as 15. But no board member under 18 is allowed to vote.

The IRS (where you apply for tax-exempt status) requires a board of at least three people.

Choose your board members for skills they can bring to the organization, including fundraising, networking, expertise in your nonprofit's field, and organizational skills.

There is no residency requirement for your board members.

Step 6: Create the Bylaws

Florida law requires the creation of bylaws for any corporation. Bylaws are the internal rules of the corporation. The board must adopt them before the corporation can legally function.

You can add provisions to your bylaws, depending on the needs of your nonprofit. But most standard bylaws for nonprofit corporations include:

  • Your nonprofit's name, mailing address, and primary location of operation
  • Names and offices of all board members
  • Guidelines for board meetings
  • Financial management
  • Dissolution procedure, including how you will distribute the nonprofit's assets
  • Process for amending the bylaws

You should also create a conflict of interest policy. A conflict of interest policy establishes an agreed-upon procedure if any board member's personal interests conflict with the organization's best interests.

Step 7: Hold the First Board Meeting

Once you create your board, it should conduct its first organizational meeting shortly after.

Your board members will accomplish several important business objectives, including:

Take minutes at this initial meeting.

Step 8: Incorporate Your Nonprofit

Incorporating your nonprofit provides a legal separation between the organization and yourself and other members, limiting personal liability. This means that individuals have protection against personal financial responsibility for the organization's debts.

Incorporating a nonprofit business entity in Florida follows completely different processes from incorporating a for-profit company.

You must incorporate your new nonprofit with the Florida Department of State—Division of Corporations.

All forms and instructions for filing the nonprofit incorporation forms are on the Division of Corporations website. That website also has for-profit incorporation information and links. Be sure to follow the correct procedure and file nonprofit articles of incorporation.

The fee for filing nonprofit incorporation forms is $35. The filing fee for the registered agent is an additional $35.

Step 9: File for Your Federal and State Employer Identification Numbers (EIN)

You must file for a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) on the Internal Revenue Service website. An EIN is like a social security number for your business.

There is no fee to get an EIN through the IRS. Beware of commercial websites charging a fee for an EIN. Many of them look similar to the official IRS website.

You can then file your Form DR-1 Florida Business Tax Registration with the Florida Department of Revenue. There is no fee for this unless you also file for sales tax registration ($5). This consolidated tax site allows you to complete any necessary tax registration, including nonprofit registration.

Step 10: File for Federal Tax-Exempt Status

Before filing for your 501(c)(3), you must file IRS Form 1023 (Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code).

This registers your organization with the federal government as a nonprofit. Smaller organizations with under $250,000 in total assets may use IRS Form 1023 EZ.

The filing fee for Form 1023 is $600.00. The filing fee for Form 1023-EZ is $275.

Form 1023 asks highly detailed questions about your nonprofit's organization, history, policies, finances, and other aspects of your business. Take your time to answer these questions completely and truthfully. Then, file the form by mail or online at Pay.gov (a website used by the federal government to process applications and fees).

If the IRS approves your nonprofit for 501(c)(3) status, you will receive a determination letter granting your federal tax exemption. The IRS receives over 95,000 applications for tax-exempt status each year, so processing times vary. You can check the status of your application here.

After receiving your IRS determination letter, you can file for your nonprofit status with the State of Florida.

Step 11: File for State of Florida Tax-Exempt Status

You must apply to the state for your exemption from Florida state corporate income tax. To do this, file copies of the following with the Florida Department of Revenue:

  • Your nonprofit's address
  • Bylaws
  • Determination letter from the IRS for federal tax exemption

You will then receive your state certificate of exemption. There is no fee for this.

Other Business Taxes and Fees

Even though your nonprofit isn't taxed on business income, it's still responsible for employment and most sales taxes.

You may be able to file for a nonprofit sales tax exemption. Complete and submit Form DR-5—Application for a Consumer's Certificate of Exemption with the Florida Department of Revenue. If approved, the Certificate of Exemption allows your organization exemption from sales tax on eligible purchases.

If you're going to hire employees, you may have other state obligations. Under Florida law, you may have to file for workers' compensation insurance. You may also need unemployment insurance.

Florida doesn't have a state-level property tax. Local governments manage property taxes. But the Florida Department of Revenue oversees this entire process. You may file for a local property tax exemption through your county Property Appraiser. Even if you get this exemption, other annual filing obligations may still exist.

Charities Have Their Own Rules

If you're creating a charitable nonprofit corporation, you must register with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) before you solicit donations or begin fundraising.

The FDACS uses an organization's preceding year's financial report to determine the registration fee. For new organizations with no previous financial history, the FDACS uses a proposed budget.

You must renew this registration annually.

Keep Up With Annual Obligations

There are several annual renewals you must stay on top of to keep your tax-exempt status. These include:

  • Charitable organization status with the FDACS
  • Annual report with the Florida Secretary of State
  • Annual information return with the IRS (using Form 990 series)
  • Required tax returns

Failure to file these will cause your nonprofit to be in bad standing. This can affect your tax-exempt status, partnerships, and contracts signed during that period.

Need More Help With Your Nonprofit? Get Legal Advice

Any new small business venture, including a nonprofit, may need legal help at some point. Navigating tax exemptions, charitable registration, and incorporation can be overwhelming and costly. You'll want to get it right the first time.

An experienced Florida business organization lawyer can tackle the complicated legal aspects of your nonprofit formation, leaving you more time and energy to focus on your organization's mission.

You can also consider using our DIY nonprofit formation tool. This tool guides you through the formation process, helping ensure your new nonprofit corporation is set up correctly and entitled to a federal tax exemption.

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