Why You Need a Lawyer – Nonprofits

March 18, 2024. 2 minute read.
By VV Sarah
Business Formation

Iā€™m starting a nonprofit and not sure where to start ā€“ Do I need a lawyer?


While it is not a legal requirement to have a lawyer help you register your nonprofit in the US, it is highly advisable to seek legal counsel.


Here are several reasons why involving a lawyer can be be really helpful:

Expertise in Nonprofit Law

Lawyers specializing in nonprofit law have extensive knowledge and experience in navigating the legal complexities of nonprofit organizations. They are familiar with federal and state laws, regulations, and compliance requirements specific to nonprofits. Their expertise ensures that your organization adheres to all legal obligations throughout the registration process and beyond.


Proper Entity Selection

A lawyer can help you determine the most suitable legal structure for your nonprofit organization. Whether it is forming a nonprofit corporation, charitable trust, or association, an attorney can guide you in selecting the entity type that best aligns with your goals and mission. They can explain the advantages and disadvantages of each structure and ensure compliance with state-specific requirements.


Document Preparation and Filing

Registering a nonprofit requires preparing and filing various legal documents, such as Articles of Incorporation or Trust Agreements, with the appropriate state agencies. Lawyers are skilled at drafting these documents accurately, ensuring that they comply with all legal requirements and include necessary provisions to protect your organization’s interests.


IRS Compliance and Tax-Exempt Status

Attaining and maintaining tax-exempt status from the IRS (such as 501(c)(3)) is a crucial step for many nonprofits. Lawyers knowledgeable in nonprofit tax law can assist you in completing and submitting the necessary forms, such as Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ. They can also help you navigate complex tax regulations, including understanding and fulfilling ongoing reporting and compliance obligations.


Board Governance and Legal Compliance

Lawyers can guide you in establishing effective governance structures, such as drafting bylaws and board policies, ensuring compliance with federal and state laws governing board responsibilities and fiduciary duties. They can provide guidance on ethics, conflicts of interest, and best practices for board decision-making, reducing the risk of legal disputes or liabilities.


Risk Mitigation and Liability Protection

Nonprofits face various risks and potential liabilities. Lawyers can help identify and mitigate risks specific to your organization’s activities, such as liability related to fundraising, contracts, employment, or intellectual property. They can draft and review contracts, policies, and procedures to protect your organization’s interests and minimize legal exposure.


Ongoing Legal Support

Nonprofit legal needs extend beyond registration. Lawyers can provide ongoing legal counsel, advising on matters such as fundraising compliance, employment issues, contract negotiations, intellectual property protection, mergers, and acquisitions. Having a lawyer as a trusted advisor ensures that your organization remains legally compliant and protected in the long run.



While involving a lawyer does involve some costs, the value they provide in terms of legal expertise, risk mitigation, compliance, and long-term guidance is invaluable. Nonprofit law is complex, and mistakes are very easy to make during the registration process or in ongoing operations can have significant consequences. Engaging a lawyer specializing in nonprofit law ensures that you have the necessary support and guidance to establish and run your nonprofit organization successfully.



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