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Step By Step Guide

How to Start a nonprofit corporation in Rhode Island

Forming a nonprofit corporation provides liability protection for any type of business, and should be among the first steps you take as a new business owner. Starting a nonprofit corporation can help you protect your personal assets while adding legitimacy to your company. Follow our step by step guide or let us handle the paperwork on your behalf, ensuring your business is filed quickly and accurately.

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Why start and file a nonprofit corporation in Rhode Island?

While the state of Rhode Island may be the smallest of all the U.S. states, its nonprofit sector is booming. More than 6,600 nonprofit organizations are in the state of Rhode Island. Nonprofits employ a little over 18% of the state’s workforce and generate more than $13 billion in annual revenue.

Best of all, Rhode Islanders are just as supportive when it comes to giving back to nonprofits. Statistics have shown that Rhode Islanders gives more than $469 million to charity each year. Setting up a Rhode Island nonprofit corporation may be the next, best step for your business. Let’s look at the steps necessary to get started.  

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MyCorporation® can help you file all of the necessary documents to form your nonprofit corporation in Rhode Island.

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Our free guide provides you with all of the information you'll need to form your nonprofit corporation in Rhode Island. Bookmark this page as a reference so you can return easily as you complete each step of the process.

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How to Start a nonprofit corporation in Rhode Island

Now that you have decided to start a nonprofit, you need to determine the charitable mission and purpose for the business. In order to comply with IRS regulations, it's important that your business is organized for an exempt purpose. Your business may not engage in political activities and must not overcompensate its members.

The next step will be to decide on a name for your business. Choose a name that is memorable and unique, easy to understand and pronounce, and accurately represents your business. You'll want to search your name choices online to quickly find out if they are already taken. It's also best to jot down one or two alternatives, in case the name you settle on is not available for registration in Rhode Island.

There are a few rules that Rhode Island Nonprofit Corporations must follow in order to register a name. The name you choose must be unique and not “confusingly similar” to the name of any other Rhode Island business. This is to prevent fraud or misrepresentation and is a common rule in all 50 states. 

You can find out whether a nonprofit name is available in Rhode Island by using the RI Department of State Corporate Database to check name availability. Enter a business name to begin your search and see if there are any possible conflicts. Be sure to check variations or alternate spellings as well, otherwise your filing may be rejected.

In a pinch, you can use MyCorporation’s business name search service, where we will conduct a more thorough search on your behalf and report back our findings. Plus, MyCorporation includes a business name search for free when we complete your LLC filings on your behalf!

Tip: A business name check is included with every one of our business formation packages. We check with the state to determine the availability of your business name automatically. You can also conduct a nationwide business name search here.

Most states require that you designate a registered agent for your business, and Rhode Island is no exception. A registered agent acts as the state's means to communicate with a business and is responsible for receiving legal and official documents related to the business.

In the state of Rhode Island, it is required that all business entities filed in the state maintain a registered agent. This registered agent may be an individual or entity that receives official and legal documents on behalf of the business.

They must be a Rhode Island resident, have a Rhode Island street address, and be available at the given address during normal business hours to accept service of process. A P.O. Box is not accepted as a registered agent address. A member of the nonprofit corporation can act as the registered agent if desired, or you may also use a third-party registered agent service like MyCorporation.

Why designate a third party to act as my registered agent?

It should be noted that registered agent information is made publicly available. This can cause privacy concerns for business owners who do not wish to list their personal contact information on the internet for everyone to see. It is also common for the registered agent to become a target of spam or robocalls since this private information is relatively easy to obtain.

Another issue that may arise is that in the case of a lawsuit, these documents would be hand delivered directly to the registered agent. In the case that you used your business location for this purpose, this could occur in front of your customers. This is why many business owners opt for a third-party registered agent service such as MyCorporation to act as a registered agent on behalf of their business.

Tip: Our Deluxe and Premium formation packages include a full year of registered agent services for your business. We also offer standalone registered agent services which you can add to your business later.

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The state of Rhode Island requires you to file nonprofit Articles of Incorporation to form a nonprofit corporation. This is also referred to as Articles of Agreement in the state of Rhode Island.

What information should be included in the Articles of Incorporation?

This document includes basic information about the Rhode Island nonprofit corporation such as:

  • Name of the corporation
  • Period of its duration
  • Specific purpose or purposes for which the corporation is organized
  • Provisions, if any, not consistent with the law, which the incorporators elect to set forth in these Articles of Incorporation
  • Name and address of the initial registered agent/office in Rhode Island
  • Number of the initial Board of Directors of the Corporation
  • Name and address of each incorporator
  • Date when Articles of Incorporation will be effective
  • Print name of the incorporator, date, and signature of incorporator

A filing fee of $35 is also required when submitting the Articles of Incorporation for a Non-Profit Corporation. You may pay the fee by mail or via check made payable to RI Department of State or in person via cash, credit card, or check at the Business Services Division.

Bylaws are the detailed set of rules agreed upon and adopted by the board of directors of the nonprofit. Think of these as an instruction manual to run the business. They include rules and procedures related to meetings you will hold, and notes on the ways you will elect officers and directors of the business. While bylaws are not required for nonprofit corporations in the state of Rhode Island, it is recommended that nonprofit corporations still maintain and keep a record handy.

If you are not sure how to create corporate bylaws, you can purchase MyCorporation's customized Minutes and Bylaws package. Inside our package you will find internal documents required to fulfill your corporate formalities and properly operate your business after it has been incorporated.

The first board meeting for your business is often referred to as the organizational meeting of the board. During this meeting, the initial directors of the business will adopt the corporate bylaws, set the fiscal year, and appoint corporate officers.

This meeting and all future meetings of the board of directors must be recorded in corporate minutes. Minutes are documents that detail what was discussed and any decisions the business makes during meetings. They are kept with the corporate records.

Corporate minutes are required for all Rhode Island nonprofit corporations by law. Falling behind on this critical task can cause your business to fall out of good standing, and even jeopardize its tax-exempt status. It is important to maintain a corporate minute book. Inside you may keep originals or copies of all the signed and approved minutes or Actions by Unanimous Consent from any special or annual meetings of the corporation's shareholders and directors.

An EIN (also referred to as a Federal Tax ID) is a nine-digit number that is issued by the IRS and used to uniquely identify your business for tax purposes. Think of it as a Social Security Number (SSN) for your business, except an EIN is less sensitive. Like an SSN, an EIN allows you to:

  • Open business checking, savings, or investment accounts
  • File taxes for the business
  • Complete payroll for employees if applicable
  • Obtain lines of credit and credit cards, and build credit for your business
  • Apply for applicable business licenses when required
  • File for tax exempt status

You will only need a few pieces of information to file, including your mailing address and legal business name. You can apply online Opens in a new window with the IRS by downloading IRS IRS Form SS-4 (PDF)(116 KB), or work alongside a third party organization like MyCorporation to complete an EIN application.

Your nonprofit corporation is not automatically tax exempt. In order to become tax exempt, you will need to take certain steps to obtain this status. First, you will need to file for exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service using either Form 1023 (PDF)(866 KB) Opens in a new window or Form 1024 (PDF)(360 KB), depending on the classification of your organization.

In some cases, you may be eligible to file Form 1023-EZ Opens in a new window, a streamlined version of the application for recognition of tax exemption. You can avoid a $25 fee if you file for federal tax exemption before filing with the state.

Once your filing with the IRS is complete, they will send you a Determination Letter that officially recognizes your nonprofit's tax exempt status. To gain the same exemptions at the state level, fill out Form CT-247 (PDF)(191 KB): Application for Exemption from Corporation Franchise Taxes by a Not-for-Profit Organization with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. There is no fee for this form.

You can learn more about the process directly from Publication 557 from the IRS (PDF)(2.1 MB).

It is advised that your nonprofit corporation checks in with the Rhode Island Secretary of State for this section. The state will further detail if your nonprofit corporation needs a solicitation permit and the charitable solicitation laws set throughout the United States.

Which licenses and permits are required to operate a nonprofit corporation in Rhode Island? Rhode Island has plenty of license types available for small businesses ranging from auto body to upholstery. Visit the State of Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation to view a complete list of the professions that require business licenses in in Rhode Island. Then, apply for the relevant business licenses or renew an existing license.

In the event that you need a bit of help, you may also turn to MyCorporation’s business license compliance package. Our skilled professionals will do the work for you. We identify all of the licenses required by your business and provide you with the information you need in order to file.

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Rhode Island nonprofit corporation Frequently Asked Questions

According to the Rhode Island Secretary of State, nonprofit corporation processing times run typically 7 business days if you file online. All orders are processed in the order they are received.

In order to keep your nonprofit in good standing, there are reoccurring requirements that must be met.

  • All nonprofits must file a Statement of Information with the Secretary of State every two years.
  • All nonprofits must hold an annual meeting of the directors logged in their corporate minutes.
  • All nonprofits (except schools, hospitals, and religious organizations) need to file the annual registration renewal fee report. The fee for the report may vary, so check in with the Colorado Secretary of State for further guidelines.

In order to form a nonprofit corporation in Rhode Island, you will be required to pay various fees and taxes. The breakdown of the required fees is as follows:

  • Nonprofit corporation filing application fee - $35
  • Annual Report Fee - $50

In total, expect to set aside at least $85 to form a nonprofit corporation in Rhode Island.

According to the Rhode Island Secretary of State, foreign entities that wish to transact business in Rhode Island must first obtain a certificate of authority. The RI Secretary of State provides links to this application form (PDF)(295 KB) on its website.

The filing fee is $310 and made be paid either by mail via check made payable to RI Department of State or in person via cash, credit card, or check at the Business Services Division. Remember that when filing a certificate of authority, you must also include an original certificate of existence/good standing that is dated no more than 60 days prior to filing in Rhode Island.

Helpful Rhode Island Resources

Secretary Of State Details

Rhode Island Secretary of State
148 W. River Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02904-2615


See Our How To Startup Guides for Rhode Island

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