How to Start a Non-profit: Step 2 – Registering for an EIN

This fall, we’re creating blogs focused on various resources charities might need. This blog is part of a series focused on becoming a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization from a Zealous Good team member who has done it before! Stay tuned throughout the next few months for direction on Registering for an EIN, Filing for Tax-Exempt Status, and little bits of advice!

Step #2: Registering for an EIN (Employer ID Number)

As mentioned in the previous post on how to start a non-profit, I highly recommend hiring a lawyer to navigate through the overall process of becoming a nonprofit organization.  Given how expensive they can get, the idea behind this blog series is to gather all the information your lawyer will eventually need – hopefully cutting back on the hours spent (and charged to your new nonprofit)!

Please note: Though this step is through the IRS, laws for other aspects still vary by state.  Check with your local government websites to verify fulfillment of all requirements.

Man Filling out Tax FormAn Employee Identification Number, also known as a Federal Tax ID Number, is a 9-digit number assigned to any business entity (including nonprofits), estate, or trust for the purposes of tax filing and report purposes. You must have your EIN before applying for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status. If you are an established business but you were not previously a nonprofit, or you are still working under the same company name, but are establishing a new entity that is nonprofit, you still must register for a separate EIN before you can become a tax exempt charity.

You will need IRS form SS-4:

Option 1: Apply online!  This is the fastest, easiest way. You will have your EIN the very same day (during regular business hours).

  • Here is the IRS website to fill out SS-4:
  • This form is only available 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Central-Standard Time. The link will not work outside those hours.
  • If you are nervous about disclosing information online, here’s a little tip: check the URL at the top of your browser.  See how it says “https”? That little “s” means “secure” (this applies to any website, actually). So as long as that “s” is there, you should not have to worry about your information being viewed by anyone else online.
  • This is a FREE service offered by the IRS!  Get excited: how often do the words “free” and “IRS” go in the same sentence?
  • You will have the option to review and print everything before you click to submit.

Option 2: Call them.

  • This is quick, but you really should have the form filled out before you call, so I do not recommend it.

Option 3: Filing through snail-mail or fax

The form is pretty straightforward, but here are a few hints:

  • Save yourself some time: look at Page 3 before you do anything. If any of the listed items apply to you, note which lines you do not have to fill out.
  • Remember to be consistent.  Make sure everything you write on this form matches up all the previous documents you have filed.  Do not use abbreviations when filling out your company’s name.
  • Line 2 asks for your “Trade Name”.  This is what you may be known as outside of the legal name.  An example would be “McDonalds” being the trade name of “McDonalds Corporation”.
  • Line 3: Your Executor is your Registered Agent – If you recall from my last blog post, this is the person (or organization) that receives the legal and tax documents on behalf of your nonprofit.  Either a member of your organization or a third party (like a lawyer or service company) can act as a registered agent.  If this is a designated person within a company, indicate “care of” with the company.
  • Line 9a asks if you are an “other nonprofit organization”. “Other” means not a church or church-controlled organization.
    •  “GEN” is Group Exemption Number – i.e. it is for organizations already working under an established tax-exempt nonprofit, so you can ignore this.

You’re now one step closer to becoming a nonprofit, and even better, one step closer to becoming an eligible Zealous Good nonprofit member!  Meanwhile, as you’re organizing things for that new office, don’t forget to donate those unneeded items to Zealous Good!

Michelle Retson is a Community Engagement Manager at Zealous Good, an in-kind donations marketplace in Chicago. Her family founded  the nonprofit, Healing, Health, & Hope. You can find Michelle on Google+, or Zealous Good on Facebook and on Twitter at @ZealousGood.

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