Nonprofit-Specific Legal Information

Assembled by Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

Businesses requiring legal advice should contact an attorney.

NOTE: The vast majority of U.S. laws apply equally to nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Therefore, nonprofit personnel should also review information in the overall topic Legal Information (U.S. Law).

Sections of This Topic Include

Articles of Incorporation
Corporate Bylaws
Registration to Solicit Funds
Tax-Related Laws Regarding Nonprofits
Legal Advice for Board Members
Regulations About Lobbying

Assessing the Nonprofit's Legal-Related Activities
General Resources

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Articles of Incorporation

(or other charter document, eg, Articles of Association, etc.)

The articles of incorporation (or other forms of description, such as charters, constitutions, articles of association, etc.) are established when the organization files for incorporation with the appropriate state agency. This governing document specifies the legal description of an organization, including, for example, its name, the purpose or mission of the organization, place of business, primary officers, etc. A board of directors gets its authority from the articles. See Articles of Incorporation

Corporate Bylaws

Bylaws represent how the board of directors chooses to organize itself, carry out its operations and organize management of the corporation. Not all states require bylaws (so they may not always be interpreted as legal documents, as such), yet bylaws are often highly recommended for the board in order for member to be clear and consistent in their roles. See Corporate Bylaws

Registration to Solicit Funds

Some states and cities require registration to solicit funds in their locale. Contact your local Secretary of State, Secretary of Commerce, Attorney General's office, etc., to determine requirements in your state and city. Also see Registration of Fundraising Activities

Tax-Related Laws Regarding Nonprofits

See the following topics in Nonprofit Business Taxes, including, for example:
Do I Need Help to Get Started?
Importance of Good Record Keeping
Getting Tax-Exempt Status
Federal, State, Sales, Payroll Taxes, etc.
Preparing and Filing Form 990s (including about public disclosure)
Donations and Taxes
Unrelated Business Income Taxes (UBIT)
Lobbying and Taxes
Special Topic -- When Hiring, Need Independent Contractor or Employee?

Legal Advice for Board Members

For basic guidelines to help ensure your board is minimizing chances of a lawsuit, see Legal Considerations for Board Members

Regulations About Lobbying

Lobbying and Taxes

Assessing the Nonprofit's Legal Activities

To conduct a general audit of legal-related matters in your organization, see Legal Indicators.

General Resources

International Center for Nonprofit Law

Nolo Press self-help law center provides extensive information in a wide range of areas, e.g., about small businesses, will and estate planning, tax problems, patents and copyrights, and employment.

Additional links

NPO Regulations: A Glossary
Online Compendium of Federal and State Regulations for U.S. Nonprofit Organizations
Other NPO Regulation Resources
Online Compendium of NPO Regulations
Model Document Retention Policy for Nonprofits

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