Tax and Legal Basics for Your New .ORG: Six Steps to Start-Up Success

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–by Paul Diaz, Vice President Policy, Public Interest Registry

Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” The same can be said of starting your .ORG. The idea may come to you in a flash of insight, but the rest takes a bit more time and a lot more work. PIR is proud to be the registry for mission-based organizations that do so much good. If you have passion for your mission, we have practical help to get you going.

An essential aspect of starting your non-profit is understanding the tax and legal steps involved. According to this helpful article by, “Every non-profit organization must have a carefully developed structure and operating procedures to be effective at fulfilling its purpose. Good governance starts with helping the organization begin on a sound legal and financial footing in compliance with the numerous federal, state, and local requirements affecting non-profits.”

Be sure to consult your own tax and legal advisers to form a comprehensive plan that fits your organization’s specific needs.  In the meantime, here is what the experts say are a few basics to keep in mind:

Perfect Your Purpose

What problem do you want to address in your community or the world? What differentiates your mission? And importantly: are there organizations already doing what you’d like to do? According to this article on, “It will be harder to get support if you are just duplicating existing services rather than improving or adding to them.” This article from states that in the United States, a concise mission statement is also helpful when applying for 501(c) (3) tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). And speaking of 501(c)’s…

Choose Your Category

According to this piece from, in the United States, “There are 29 types of non-profit organizations that can file for tax-exemption under section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code. The most common of these is the 501(c)(3), which includes all charitable, religious, scientific, and literary organizations.” The article goes on to say groups like social clubs or trade associations file under different 501(c) codes, so it’s important to know which one applies to your organization. 

There are, of course, different tax rules for every country. But as this article from notes, “In most countries, registered charitable organizations enjoy exemptions from income or other taxes. They will almost always receive certificates from their respective revenue or tax authority that their organization is tax-exempt.”

This piece by says that for U.S. organizations looking to incorporate as a 501(c)(3) your .ORG must fit within a certain category — such as “Charitable,” which includes such missions as poverty relief, to “Literary,” among others.  The article cites this helpful list of classifications:

  • Charitable (including poverty relief, combating discrimination, advancing education, etc.)
  • Religious
  • Educational
  • Public safety testing
  • Literary
  • Youth/amateur sports competition
  • Scientific
  • Cruelty prevention for children and animals

Claim Your Name

What’s in a name? Quite a bit, when it comes to your non-profit. Your name should reflect the tone and goals of your organization. You can start brainstorming with some advice from this article on The article also recommends checking your state’s rules about corporate designations for non-profits. “Many states require that non-profits have a corporate designator, such as Incorporated, Corporation, Company, Limited or their abbreviations (Inc., Corp., Co., and Ltd respectively).” Once you have the perfect name, it’s a good idea to see if it’s already trademarked on the U.S. Department of Commerce Patent and Trademark website . And, of course, once you select the right name, you can work through an accredited registrar authorized to register .ORG domain names with PIR to register the perfect .ORG to present your mission to the world.

Build Your Board

According to this article in the Harvard Business Review,, by David Simms, Global Chief Development Officer and President of Opportunity International, US, your board, ideally, will bring together smart, committed people with diverse talents. Where can you find members like this? “They come from extremely successful careers in business, law, non-profits, academia, and elsewhere,” says Simms. “They are carefully vetted before being asked to serve, and they make their attendance at every meeting a priority—they want to be there.”

Bring on the Bylaws

First, what are bylaws? Bylaws comprise the way your .ORG will approach meetings, board elections, and other proceedings. They are legal documents, so you’ll want help from a lawyer in creating them. Pro-bono services for non-profits are available through  According to this blog post by Donorbox,, “Non-profit bylaws raise the level of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness of all non-profit organizations to foster excellence in their service and inspire trust.” Donorbox’s post features advice and resources for creating your bylaws. 

Prep the Paperwork

For U.S.-based organizations looking to file for federal tax-exempt status, some of the  applicable forms may be found on the IRS website. But it’s important to seek legal advice for this step, as the application itself is a legal-binding document. Your lawyer can also help you file for any state or local tax exemptions that may be applicable, and advise on regulations governing solicitations. 


You’re committed to a cause and you want to change the world. We hope that these steps help you put your best foot forward as you start!