Even small organizations can get in trouble if they don’t know the basics of nonprofit law and, an attorney even on a volunteer basis, should be available to consult as you first start up and  thereafter. The lawyers clearinghouse is the place to look, or see the end of this section for legal resources.

Starting a nonprofit

Are you interested in starting your own nonprofit organization?  Here are some helpful links.

Taxes for nonprofits

Here is some information from the IRS that every nonprofit needs to know about annual filings, tax exemption, etc.  We encourage you to make sure you are up-to-date on all tax policies. Please note recent changes to the regulations for form 990 and the new 1099 legislation.

501(c) 3 Status

Most nonprofit organizations are classified as 501 (c) 3.  Here is more information about what that means, as well as how to apply for tax exempt status.

Fiscal sponsorship

Before becoming incorporated, many organizations seek a fiscal sponsor to ease some of the administrative burdens.  Having a fiscal sponsor can also help an organization apply for grant funding prior to incorporation.  Most foundations will not give money to an organization unless it is incorporated or has a fiscal sponsor.

Assistance with creating or revising bylaws and articles of incorporation

Non profits are required to adopt articles of incorporation and bylaws, here is some help with both.


Nonprofit organizations need to provide a written disclosure to donors who contribute $75 or more in goods or services.  It’s best to inform them of this in their acknowledgment letter.

Charitable Contributions Substantiation and Disclosure Requirements – IRS

Mergers, collaborations, and partnerships

Have you thought about collaborating with another organization on a project?   Before doing so, it’s important to have a plan in place and be prepared for any challenges that might arise. Also, in this vulnerable economy, some organizations might be thinking about merging with another organization.  Make sure your plans are well thought out before you take any action.

Code of ethics

Thinking about establishing a code of ethics? A good idea. The links below will give you some guidelines.


Many nonprofit organizations work with at-risk clients and in situations where information needs to be kept confidential and some employee and client information is required to be kept confidential.   Here is a sample confidentiality form.


You have probably heard a lot about accountability and transparency.  Do you know what kinds of information you need to make public?

Membership nonprofits

Here is information on what it means to be a membership nonprofit.

Risk management/workplace safety

It’s important for your organization to ensure a safe workplace. Here are some management practices you should engage in.


Have you been wondering what types of insurance your organization should have?  MNN offers some insurance discounts, see Cost Savings page for more information. Here’s what you need to know.

Pro bono and reduced fee legal assistance for nonprofits

These links provide useful information about where you can find free and reduced-fee legal assistance.

The Community Development Clinic at the Southern New England School of Law in Dartmouth offers free legal representation by upper level students and educational materials to nonprofit organizations in the South Coast community.

Clinic projects include revision of bylaws, filing of incorporation documents, compliance with fund-raising regulations, and other such tasks. Students also are available to brief boards of directors or groups of nonprofits on various legal issues and developments impacting the sector.

Organizations interested in working with students in the Community Development Clinic must complete an inquiry form. For more information, call the Community Development Clinic at 508-998-9600 x 163, or email cdc@snesl.edu.

The MassLegalServices Legal Resource Finder will provide contact information for legal aid programs, other nonprofits, government agencies and court-based programs which offer free and low-cost services. Additionally, MassLegalHelp provides low-income, Massachusetts residents who face legal issues with information, resources, and legal aid.

Copyrights/fair use

Does your organization understand fair use of copyrighted material?


Background checks

The nature of your organization will determine the extent of the background checks of your staff and volunteers.  Organizations that work with children will need to do more thorough background checks, such as CORI’s and SORI’s.

Additional legal resources