How to Start a Nonprofit in Florida: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Start a Nonprofit in Florida

Starting a nonprofit organization is an exciting venture that allows you to turn your passion for a cause into impactful action. This comprehensive guide is designed to help you navigate the specific processes and legal requirements on how to start a nonprofit in Florida.  Throughout this guide, we’ll walk you through each essential step of the journey, from defining your mission to securing tax exemptions and everything in between. Get ready to make your mark in the Sunshine State, creating a lasting legacy that will benefit your community and beyond.

1 – Define Your Mission

Defining your mission is a critical first step in creating a nonprofit organization. Your mission statement is the cornerstone of your organization, articulating your purpose and guiding all of your activities. It is not just a formal statement for your documents, but a declaration that answers the question, “Why do we exist?” This will be the basis for your strategic plans, the guiding star for your initiatives, and the message that resonates with your stakeholders – donors, volunteers, and the community you serve.

Considerations When Defining Your Mission:

  1. Identify Your Purpose: Start by pinpointing the need or problem that your nonprofit seeks to address. Why is it important? What change do you hope to bring? These considerations will help you to articulate your purpose.
  2. Be Specific: While your cause may be broad, it is crucial to narrow down and clearly define your specific role. For example, instead of saying, “We aim to help the needy,” you might specify, “We aim to provide housing and job training for homeless veterans in the Miami area.”
  3. Keep It Simple and Concise: Your mission statement should be understandable to anyone who reads it. Avoid jargon and aim for a simple, clear, and concise statement.
  4. Make It Inspiring: Remember, your mission statement will be a rallying cry for your team, volunteers, and donors. Make sure it’s inspiring, impactful, and speaks to the heart of the change you wish to effect.
  5. Review and Revise: Your mission statement should not be static. As your nonprofit grows and the landscape of your cause changes, don’t be afraid to revisit and revise your mission statement to stay relevant.

Remember, your mission is the bedrock of your nonprofit. It shapes your strategies, influences your organizational culture, and helps to measure your success. Crafting it with care will pave the way for the meaningful work you intend to accomplish.

2 – Choose a Name

Choosing the right name for your nonprofit in Florida involves understanding and following certain rules and regulations specific to the state. In addition to reflecting on your mission and being memorable, your chosen name should also meet Florida’s legal requirements.

Legal Requirements

  • Compliance with Florida’s Naming Requirements: According to the Florida Nonprofit Corporation Act (Chapter 617, Florida Statutes), your nonprofit’s name must be distinguishable from the names of other business entities already registered with the Florida Division of Corporations. This includes names reserved or registered as trademarks.
  • Perform a Name Search: Before you settle on a name, perform a thorough search on the Florida Department of State: Division of Corporations’ website to ensure that your preferred name is not already in use or too similar to an existing name. You don’t want to infringe on another organization’s name and potentially face legal issues.
  • Avoid Restricted Words: The State of Florida also restricts the use of certain words and phrases in a nonprofit’s name, such as “bank,” “insurance,” “trust,” “engineer,” “doctor,” “state police,” etc. The use of such words requires special approval and additional paperwork.
  • Reserve Your Name: Once you’ve selected a name that meets all requirements, you can choose to reserve it for up to 120 days by filing a Name Reservation Request with the Division of Corporations and paying the required fee. This prevents other entities from registering the name while you’re preparing your formal incorporation documents.
  • Check Internet Availability: In today’s digital age, it’s also crucial to check if the corresponding domain name is available for your nonprofit, especially if you plan to set up a website.
  • Choose a ‘Doing Business As’ (DBA) Name: If you wish to operate under a name different from your legal name, Florida allows you to register a fictitious name or “Doing Business As” (DBA) name. This will also need to be registered with the Florida Division of Corporations.

3 – Draft Bylaws

Bylaws serve as the operating manual for your nonprofit organization. They establish the rules and procedures for how your organization is governed and managed, and they outline your board of directors’ responsibilities and structure. While the Florida Nonprofit Corporation Act (Chapter 617, Florida Statutes) provides some guidance on what the bylaws should include, it leaves considerable flexibility for organizations to establish their own rules. Below are the key elements you should consider when drafting bylaws for your nonprofit in Florida.

Organization Name and Purpose

Your bylaws should state the organization’s official name and its mission, reflecting the same as described in your Articles of Incorporation.

Board of Directors

Your bylaws should provide detailed information about the board of directors, including the number of directors, their duties, terms of office, the process for selecting new directors, meeting procedures, and how to handle vacancies or remove directors.

Officer Roles and Duties

Clearly outline the roles, responsibilities, and appointment process for officers (e.g., President, Secretary, Treasurer). Include how long officers serve and how they can be removed or replaced.


If your nonprofit will have members, your bylaws should define membership, their voting rights, the procedure for admitting and removing members, and the process for member meetings.


If your nonprofit plans to have committees describe what types of committees will exist, their purpose, how members are appointed, and the extent of their authority.

Conflicts of Interest Policy

Incorporate a policy to address potential conflicts of interest among board members and key employees. This is especially important for maintaining your federal tax-exempt status.


Include a clause that provides protection to directors and officers from being held personally responsible for the organization’s debts or liabilities.

Amendment of Bylaws

Set forth the procedures for changing the bylaws, including who can amend them and what vote is required.

Dissolution Clause

Bylaws should include provisions for amending the bylaws themselves, outlining the process and requirements for making changes. Additionally, they may include provisions regarding the dissolution of the organization, specifying the procedures for asset distribution in the event of dissolution.

Other Provisions

Depending on the unique needs of your organization, you may include additional provisions. These might include rules for fiscal management, a nondiscrimination policy, or any other policies that align with the purpose and operation of your nonprofit.

It is strongly recommended to have a lawyer review your bylaws to ensure they comply with state laws and regulations and don’t jeopardize your tax-exempt status. Once drafted, the bylaws should be adopted by your organization’s board of directors. Remember, bylaws are living documents. As your nonprofit grows and changes, the bylaws should be reviewed and revised as needed.

4 – Form a Board of Directors

Recruit board members who are passionate about your cause and possess the necessary skills and expertise to help govern and guide your organization. Your board should consist of at least three members. A clear and powerful organizational structure helps an organization with fluent delivery of work.

5 – File Articles of Incorporation

Prepare and file the Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation with the Florida Department of State Division of Corporations. This document officially establishes your nonprofit as a legal entity in the state. Include information about your organization’s name, purpose, registered agent, and other required details. You can file online, by mail, or in person.

6 – Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Apply for an EIN from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This unique identifier is necessary for opening bank accounts, hiring employees, and filing taxes. You can apply for an EIN online through the IRS website by filling out the IRS form.

7 – Apply for Tax Exemption

If you intend to pursue federal tax exemption under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, you must submit Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ to the IRS. This process determines your eligibility for tax-exempt status. Additionally, you may need to apply for exemptions from Florida taxes, if applicable.

Florida State Tax Exemptions:

  • Sales and Use Tax Exemption: To apply for a Consumer’s Certificate of Exemption (to be exempt from Florida’s sales tax), you must fill out Form DR-5 and submit it to the Florida Department of Revenue. You will need to provide a copy of your IRS determination letter as part of the application.
  • Corporate Income Tax: Florida typically grants automatic corporate income tax exemptions to most nonprofits. However, if your organization accrues income unrelated to its main mission, you may need to complete Form F-1120.
  • Property Tax Exemption: Nonprofits can qualify for property tax exemptions in Florida if the property is used for an exempt purpose. You must file an application for exemption with the county property appraiser.

8 – Register with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Depending on the nature of your nonprofit corporation, Florida law may require you to register with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This step applies to charitable organizations and involves annual registration and reporting requirements.

9 – Establish Financial and Record-Keeping Systems

Set up accounting and financial systems to accurately track your nonprofit’s income, expenses, and donations. Maintain proper records such as yearly financial statements and comply with state and federal reporting requirements.

10 – Comply with Other Regulatory Obligations

Familiarize yourself with other legal obligations, such as obtaining necessary licenses and permits, registering with the Florida Department of Revenue for sales tax purposes (if applicable), and adhering to employment laws.

Benefits of Nonprofits in Florida

Setting up a nonprofit organization in Florida offers several benefits. The benefits are for both, the community you aim to serve and for the organization itself. Here are some key advantages:

State Tax Exemptions

In addition to exemption from federal taxes, Florida offers state tax exemptions to qualifying nonprofits. This typically includes exemptions from sales and use tax on purchases related to the organization’s charitable activities.

Community Support

Nonprofit owners often enjoy community support and recognition. By addressing a specific social issue or serving a particular community, nonprofits can build relationships with stakeholders, gain public trust, and attract volunteers and supporters who share their mission.

Eligibility for Government Contracts

Nonprofits may have opportunities to secure contracts with government agencies to provide goods or services that align with their mission. These contracts can provide a stable source of revenue and enhance the organization’s ability to make a positive impact.

Limited Liability

As a separate legal entity, a non-profit corporation in Florida typically offers limited liability protection for its directors, officers, and members. This actively shields the personal assets of individuals involved in the organization from legal claims or debts incurred by the nonprofit.

Networking and Collaboration

Joining the nonprofit sector in Florida allows you to connect and collaborate with other organizations, both locally and statewide. This can lead to partnerships, sharing of resources, and collective efforts to address common goals or challenges.


While there are significant benefits to starting a nonprofit, it also requires careful planning, compliance with regulations, and ongoing commitment to meet the organization’s mission. Consulting with legal and financial professionals experienced in nonprofit matters can provide further guidance and ensure you make informed decisions.

Table of Contents

Scroll to Top