Community Development Project Resources for Forming a Tax-Exempt California Nonprofit Corporation
Public Counsel's Community Development Project (CDP) provides a wide range of transactional legal services to qualifying nonprofit organizations. We assist start-up nonprofits that share our mission by helping to incorporate, obtain tax exemption, and establish workable corporate structures and policies. The following is a collection of resources to assist nonprofit organizations that have chosen to incorporate in California and the pro bono attorneys who represent them.
Please note that these resources should not be construed as all-inclusive or as legal services to any organization or individual. These resources should only be used as a starting point to understand the steps involved with becoming a tax-exempt California nonprofit corporation, and are not a substitute for consultation with an attorney. Nonprofits may contact CDP at 213-385-2977 x 200, to determine how the information in these resources may apply to the organization's specific situation. Some organizations may need additional information not discussed in these resources. Click here to return to the CDP page of this web site.
For Potential Nonprofit Clients:
Get Ready, Get Set: What you need to know before starting a nonprofit. This publication from the Center for Nonprofit Management explains the key characteristics of nonprofit organizations and includes a decision tree for starting a new nonprofit organization. It is designed to help groups explore necessary preliminary questions, such as "is the proposed project something a nonprofit organization can legally do," "is there an unmet need in the community?" and "will the organization attract sufficient resources to make the project viable?"
Fiscal Sponsorship: An Alternative to Forming a Nonprofit 501(c)(3) Corporation. Fiscal sponsorship is an alternative available to individuals or groups performing charitable services and wishing to give their donors the ability to take a charitable contribution deduction, but not wanting to spend a great amount of time and resources to comply with the extensive filing requirements, tax compliance, and other legal obligations associated with incorporation and tax exemption. Fiscal sponsorship may be appropriate when the proposed charitable program is relatively small in scope, temporary in nature or when the business plan is in its beginning stages.
Seminars: "Launching and Sustaining a New Nonprofit." Startups and new nonprofits face a number of planning, financial, and legal challenges from the outset. This introductory course covers both legal and programmatic fundamentals, including best practices for designing successful programs, recruiting an effective board, developing a sustainable fundraising plan, forming a California nonprofit corporation and applying for tax exemption, and complying with ongoing tax and legal requirements. This seminar is offered four times a year.
Free Legal Clinics: Nonprofit Formation and Tax Exemption Clinic. Attendees meet one-on-one for up to one hour with an attorney to discuss specific questions and legal issues relating to forming a nonprofit and obtaining tax exemption. These clinics are generally open ONLY to people who have already attended CDP's seminar "Launching and Sustaining a New Nonprofit." Advance registration is required.
Application for Free Legal Assistance. If you are seeking CDP's assistance to form a new nonprofit, we recommend that you spend some time filling out this application. It will help your organization gather the information and make the decisions required throughout this process. You can save significant time by planning and answering all the questions in the application now instead of in a piecemeal fashion as they come up. Note: We cannot determine whether we can assist you unless you complete the application. For additional information or assistance, please call our intake line at 213.385.2977 x 200.
For Volunteer Attorneys:
- "Advising a charity? Avoid common fumbles by the unwary pro bono lawyer" (Business Law Today, July/August 2009)
- List of Initial Fees for Setting up a Nonprofit Tax-Exempt Corporation in California (***Updated July 2014***)
- Guide to Forming a Charitable, Tax-Exempt, Nonprofit Corporation in California (***Update Coming Soon***)
Memorandum on liability of volunteer directors of nonprofit corporations (addresses the California and federal law protections that exist to shield volunteer directors of nonprofit corporations from personal liability for their actions on behalf of the corporation)
- Steps (including forms) to Form and Obtain Tax Exemption for a California Nonprofit Corporation (***Updated January 2016***)
- Annotated Form of Articles of Incorporation: California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation
- Annotated Form of Bylaws: California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation
- Annotated Form of Conflict of Interest Policy
- Annotated Form of Whistleblower Policy
- Annotated Form of Records Management and Retention Policy
- Finance Committee Investment Guidelines
- Employee Handbook for Nonprofit
Other Information and Resources
- List of Resources and Organizations Providing Technical Assistance to Nonprofits
- Other Community Development Project Publications