How to Start a Nonprofit in Michigan

How to Start a Nonprofit in Michigan

There are many reasons why you might want to register a nonprofit in Michigan. Maybe you see a need in your community that you could fulfill, or perhaps you're a successful person who wants to give back. Whatever the case, you'll learn in this article what it takes to run a nonprofit, and you and your volunteers can be providers in your community.

The first step in starting a nonprofit is defining your goals and the core values you will follow to achieve them. Do you want to increase awareness of an issue in the community? Raise money for underfunded programs? From there, you’ll need to define the more practical points of your nonprofit, including legal and financial details. This will include forming your board of directors, drafting bylaws, and applying for tax-exempt status. It may seem daunting, but this Michigan nonprofit startup guide will show you how to start a nonprofit in Michigan and put you on the path to success in the world of nonprofits.

Benefits of a Nonprofit in the Community: Why Start a Nonprofit in Michigan?

The ways in which a nonprofit can benefit the community around it are numerous. Nonprofits can do anything from operating food banks to feed people in need, to raising awareness of important issues within the community, to providing emergency relief in case of disasters like floods or hurricanes.

In Michigan alone there are almost 55,000 nonprofits working to improve and support their communities. Organizations like Kids’ Food Basket, who provide healthy food options to nutritionally at-risk children in the Grand Rapids area; ALS of Michigan, who support people with ALS and their families with a variety of programs, all offered at no cost; and Blue Heron Headwaters Conservancy, who work to protect the fields and streams of the headwaters of four rivers, the Clinton, the Huron, the Flint and the Shiawassee in Oakland County.

The range of issues that nonprofits address is diverse, even just within the state of Michigan. Once you’ve decided the purpose of your nonprofit, it’s time to tighten your focus and clearly map out why and how your organization is going to achieve its goal.

Initial Considerations

Drafting the Vision and Mission Statements

For a nonprofit, it all begins with the vision statement. This is where you tell the world your organization's main goal for the future. In a similar fashion, your mission statement is where you provide a concise outline on how you aim to achieve this goal. Together, they are an integral part of your organization’s values, providing people with a sense of the culture and direction of your nonprofit. 

For example, the Alzheimer’s Association vision statement reads: “A world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia,” while their mission statement reads: “The Alzheimer's Association leads the way to end Alzheimer’s and and all other dementia- by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support.” The vision and mission statements of a nonprofit differ significantly from those of a traditional business, as the goal is to help the community rather than focusing on profits.

Research has found that organizations with clear vision and mission statements perform better than those without them because they provide all people in an organization with a benchmark by which all work can be measured. Usually an organization’s vision and mission statements will remain unchanged, but sometimes they can evolve as the organization changes and grows. With these statements in place your nonprofit will have a clear direction and you’ll know where to focus your effort to be as effective as possible.

Choosing a Name

Just as important will be choosing a name for your nonprofit. A good name will be descriptive while also being distinct; people should get at least an idea of what your nonprofit does from the name alone. Some organizations that got this right would be Doctors Without Borders, Feeding America, and the American Cancer Society. 

Another important point is to check for the availability of any name you settle on. Your nonprofit's name must be different from any existing corporation operating in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs' Business Entity Search is the place to check if your name is available. 

Legal Steps to Forming Your Michigan Nonprofit

Forming A Board of Directors

Your board of directors is the foundation of your nonprofit. While it is a legal requirement, the formation of a board of directors is more than just checking off a box; it is critical to an organization’s governance. Much like in a traditional business, it will provide financial oversight, guide strategy, contribute to fundraising, and much more. 

An important consideration is how many board members are you legally required to have and how long will their service be? In Michigan, the minimum number of members is three. As for term limits,the most common structure for nonprofits in the U.S. is two consecutive three-year terms. This allows the board to consistently bring in new perspectives, work with different members of the community, and avoid stagnation.

Drafting Bylaws and Conflict of Interest Policy 

Bylaws are the mechanism by which your nonprofit will operate. They define things like your organization’s official name, purpose, requirements for membership, and so on. In contrast to operating procedures, bylaws are legally binding, meaning your nonprofit could be challenged in court if it were to violate its nonprofit bylaws. 

Integrity is important to any organization, but with nonprofits this is especially the case. You’ll need to draft a conflict of interest policy to ensure that the members of the nonprofit act ethically, and in the interests of the organization rather than their own. This document should include a statement on board members’ duty to disclose conflict of interest, the process for reviewing conflicts of interest, and outline the disciplinary consequences of violating the policy.

Filing Articles of Incorporation 

Now that you’ve formed your board and outlined your bylaws, it’s time to start the legal process to inform the state and federal governments about your nonprofit. The first step in this process is filing articles of incorporation. 

Nonprofit articles of incorporation (also called a “certificate of incorporation” in some states) is the document filed with the Michigan Secretary of State that contains all basic information about your nonprofit. This document registers your nonprofit with the government, outlines the purpose of the organization, and identifies the board of directors. 

Obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Another important step is applying for an Employer Identification Number. An EIN is the identification number assigned to your organization by the IRS for tax-reporting purposes. Applying for one is fairly simple; The IRS offers the service online, by mail, or by phone. The quickest way by far is to apply online.Once you’ve completed the free online EIN application you can have your EIN sent to you immediately. 

Tax-Exempt Status for Nonprofits

Applying for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS

You may have heard the term “501(c)(3)” in association with nonprofits. This is the IRS code for a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. Once you submit articles of incorporation and the government recognizes your nonprofit, you can apply to the IRS for tax-exempt status, specifically to be exempt from federal income tax. Most 501(c)(3) groups within the US are either charitable organizations, churches and religious organizations, or private foundations. 

To file for 501(c)(3) status, you’ll need to prove to the IRS that your organization serves the needs of the public rather than the interests of the board. The categories accepted as tax-exempt by the IRS are: charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, or preventing cruelty to children or animals. You’ll find the necessary forms and more information on the IRS website; be sure to read the guidelines thoroughly.

Understanding state tax exemptions in Michigan 

Once you have your nonprofit registered and the IRS declares you federally tax-exempt, they will send you a Letter of Declaration stating as such. This letter will be needed when you file with the state of Michigan for tax exemption at the state level. In addition, your nonprofit will automatically be exempt from Michigan's 6% Corporate Income Tax, as long as your organization is federally recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. 

Funding Your Nonprofit

Initial fundraising strategies

To achieve the goal laid out in your nonprofit’s vision statement, your organization will need money. As a nonprofit, your primary source of income will be fundraising. Before approaching donors, you should already have a clear goal of how much money you want to raise, and how it will be used to accomplish the nonprofit’s goal. Think of the questions you would ask if you were a donor, and answer them before getting started with fundraising. 

Think about what companies, organizations, or groups would be receptive to giving to your organization. Once you identify who you wish to solicit donations from, this will guide you on how to do it. Whether it be social media, crowdfunding, events, sponsorships, etc., different groups will respond differently to methods of fundraising. Fundraising is a broad and sometimes complicated aspect of running a nonprofit; consider consulting with a fundraising agent or agency for more information.

Grant opportunities in Michigan 

In addition to fundraising, your group may be eligible for grants from other organizations in Michigan. According to the Michigan Center of Foundations, philanthropic organizations in Michigan make more than $1.8 billion in grants per year. Although most groups give throughout the state, there are some that focus on a specific area such as the Kresge Foundation (Detroit) or the Mott Foundation (Flint). The Council of Michigan Foundations can provide you with resources about with grant opportunities in your area. 

Managing Your Nonprofit

Accounting and financial management 

When it comes to the financial side of your organization, nonprofits have specific accounting requirements for the management of donations and expenses. This is known as fund accounting. The process of fund accounting involves separating money from different sources (grants, donations, membership fees, etc.) into different accounts, or funds. Then expenses are tracked and reported separately, by fund, so that members can ensure that the funds are being used for their intended purpose. 

Recruiting Volunteers and Staff 

If you're considering starting a nonprofit in Michigan, the process begins with understanding the necessary steps and requirements. Forming a nonprofit in Michigan involves several key elements, including registration and compliance with state and federal regulations.

To start, you'll need to file the appropriate paperwork with the state of Michigan. This typically involves submitting forms to register your nonprofit corporation. Additionally, you may need to designate a registered agent, as required by law, to receive official correspondence on behalf of your organization.

Promoting Your Nonprofit: Local Marketing Strategies for Nonprofit Awareness

When you're set on spreading the word about your nonprofit in Michigan, think of your community as a garden where you're sowing seeds of awareness. Your goal? To let every local know how your organization makes a difference. 

Start with the basics: develop a clear, engaging message about what your nonprofit does and why it matters. This message should resonate with the people in Michigan, highlighting local issues or causes your nonprofit addresses. Then, take this message to the streets—literally. Participating in local events, festivals, and markets can put your nonprofit in front of the people that care.

Don't overlook the power of local media. Drafting press releases about your nonprofit's events, milestones, or stories can capture the attention of local newspapers, radio stations, and TV channels. In today's digital age, a strong online presence is also key. Utilize social media platforms to reach a broader audience, engaging with your followers by sharing updates, stories of impact, and opportunities to get involved.

Partnering with local businesses can also amplify your reach. Many companies look for ways to give back to their communities and might welcome the chance to support your cause through sponsorship or co-hosted events. This not only increases your visibility but also strengthens community ties.

Community Engagement and Events: Building Nonprofit Awareness

Building awareness for your nonprofit in Michigan isn't just about getting your name out there; it's about forging connections and creating meaningful experiences. Community engagement and events play a pivotal role in this process. These initiatives not only introduce your nonprofit to potential supporters but also reinforce the bond with existing ones.

Start by identifying opportunities for engagement that align with your mission and appeal to your target audience in Michigan. Whether it's hosting workshops, educational talks, or community clean-ups, the events should offer value and resonate with local interests. Remember, every event is an opportunity to share your story and the critical work your nonprofit does.

Creating a successful event involves careful planning and promotion. Use a variety of channels to spread the word: local community boards, social media, partnerships with local businesses, and even fliers in popular local spots can be effective. The more personalized and targeted your outreach, the better the turnout is likely to be.

Follow-up is just as important as the event itself. Collect contact information and reach out to participants afterwards to thank them for their attendance, offer further information, or invite them to get involved. Building a community around your nonprofit involves consistent effort and genuine care for your supporters.

In essence, community engagement and events are about creating spaces for dialogue, learning, and connection. By focusing on these areas, your nonprofit can deepen its roots in the Michigan community, attracting support and making a lasting impact.

Annual Compliance and Legal Requirements

Running a nonprofit in Michigan involves not just dedication and passion, but also a keen attention to annual compliance and legal requirements. Both state and federal levels have specific reporting needs that your nonprofit must meet to maintain its good standing and tax-exempt status.

At the state level, Michigan requires your nonprofit to file an annual report with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). This form keeps your nonprofit's information up to date, including contact details and the names of directors. Additionally, if your nonprofit is registered as a charitable organization, it must adhere to the annual registration requirements set by the Michigan Attorney General's office. This often involves submitting financial statements and paying a registration fee based on the level of contributions received.

On the federal side, maintaining your tax-exempt status is crucial. This means filing Form 990 with the IRS annually. The specific version of Form 990 you need to file depends on your nonprofit's gross receipts and assets. It's not just a tax form; it's a public document that provides a transparent overview of your nonprofit's finances, mission, and achievements over the past year.

Avoiding Common Legal Pitfalls

Navigating the legal landscape of running a nonprofit in Michigan requires diligence and, often, professional advice. Several common legal pitfalls can trip up well-intentioned organizations, potentially leading to serious consequences.

First, ensure your nonprofit's activities align closely with its mission as stated in your Articles of Incorporation. Deviating from your stated purpose can jeopardize your federal tax-exempt status and put you at odds with state regulations. Regularly review and update your nonprofit's bylaws and ensure that board meetings and decision-making processes are well-documented and in compliance with those bylaws.

Also, be aware of the employment laws relevant to your nonprofit. Even as a charitable organization, you're subject to state and federal labor laws, including those concerning minimum wage, overtime pay, and workplace safety.

Finally, regularly consult with legal and tax professionals who specialize in nonprofit law. They can provide tailored advice and help you navigate the complex regulations governing nonprofit operations in Michigan. Staying informed and proactive in these areas can protect your nonprofit from common legal pitfalls and ensure its long-term success and compliance.

Conclusion: Taking the First Step

Starting a nonprofit in Michigan can seem like a daunting journey, but it's a path filled with potential for making a real difference in your community and beyond. We've walked through the key steps, from understanding the basics of forming a nonprofit, ensuring compliance with state and federal laws, to engaging with your community and beyond. Remember, the foundation of a successful Michigan nonprofit lies in clear planning, legal compliance, and a strong connection with the community it aims to serve.

Whether you're at the stage of drafting your nonprofit's bylaws, registering your organization, or planning your first big fundraising event, each step you take brings you closer to realizing your vision. The process involves careful attention to detail and adherence to both state and federal requirements, but don't let this discourage you. The impact you're aiming to create is worth every effort.

As you prepare to launch your fundraising initiatives, consider leveraging the power of PayBee. This all-in-one fundraising platform is designed to simplify the process, enabling you to focus more on your mission and less on the logistics. PayBee offers a range of tools that can support your events, manage donations, and engage with your donors effectively. It's a user-friendly solution that can adapt to the needs of both emerging and established nonprofits.

Taking the first step towards starting your nonprofit in Michigan might be the biggest challenge, but remember, every great journey begins with a single step. With the right tools and guidance, you can navigate the complexities and lead your nonprofit to success. Explore how PayBee can support your mission today, and take that all-important first step towards making a lasting impact in your community.

Frequently Asked Questions: Starting a Nonprofit in Michigan

How much does it cost to start a nonprofit organization in Michigan?

Starting a nonprofit in Michigan involves filing fees that can vary based on the specific forms and registrations required. The primary cost comes from filing the Articles of Incorporation with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which is approximately $20. There may be additional costs for registering with the IRS to obtain federal tax-exempt status, which can range from $275 to $600, depending on the size and nature of your nonprofit.

Can I start a nonprofit organization with no money in Michigan?

Starting a nonprofit with no funds can be challenging but not impossible. Initially, focus on forming a solid foundation for your nonprofit by drafting a clear mission statement and goals. You can seek volunteer legal assistance for filing your incorporation papers and apply for grants or seek donations from local businesses and community members to cover the initial filing fees. Crowdfunding platforms can also be a resourceful way to raise the funds you'll require to start.

How many directors do you need for a nonprofit in Michigan?

Michigan law requires that a nonprofit corporation have at least three directors on its board. These directors play a crucial role in governing the organization, making strategic decisions, and ensuring the nonprofit's goals are met.

Can a Michigan LLC be a nonprofit?

In Michigan, an LLC can elect to operate as a nonprofit, but it is not the standard structure for nonprofits. Nonprofits typically incorporate as a nonprofit corporation to take advantage of specific benefits, such as eligibility for tax-exempt status under IRS Section 501(c)(3). If an LLC chooses to pursue a nonprofit mission, it must comply with the same regulations and requirements as a nonprofit corporation, including applying for tax-exempt status.

Do nonprofits pay property taxes in Michigan?

Nonprofits in Michigan may be exempt from property taxes if the property is used for charitable, religious, educational, or public purposes. To qualify for this exemption, the nonprofit must apply through the local assessor's office, providing proof of its tax-exempt status and demonstrating that the property's use aligns with its nonprofit mission.

Start Fundraising

I am a...

Looking for...

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Charity Fundraising
Hybrid Fundraising
Nonprofit Fundraising
Karen Bodkin

Karen Bodkin is a Canadian freelance writer who is a frequent contributor to the PayBee blog. When she's not writing, you can find her exploring the great outdoors. Her portfolio can be found here: https://karenbodkin.contra.com.