By-Laws and 501(c)(3) Status


Starting Up
Incorporating your nonprofit group can be intimidating, but River Network's Starting Up: A Handbook for New River and Watershed Organizations manual has helped hundreds of nonprofits all over the country to maneuver this process.  Cost: $40 on the River Network website.


Nonprofit bylaws are basically an instruction manual for your organization. They include your organization’s mission and purpose as well as
important elements of how your group will be organized, led, and run.

Creating by-laws for your organization can be a little intimidating because they seem so permanent and official! But luckily there are a lot of online resources that can help you create them.  Plus, remember you can always amend them down the road if you feel you need to.  Just remember: always  have an attorney look over your bylaws before you submit them to the IRS.

Click here for basics on bylaws.

Below are some good examples from environmental groups all over the country:


Click here for the IRS guidelines on the following:

  • Activities that may jeopardize a charity's exempt status

  • Federal information returns, tax returns or notices that must be filed

  • Recordkeeping—why, what, when

  • Governance considerations

  • Changes to be reported to the IRS

  • Required public disclosures

  • Resources for public charities

Incorporating Your Group / 501(c)(3)

Note: If you are not yet a non-profit, but are accepting donations, your organization's literature must state this fact. Once your organization receives its determination letter from the IRS, donations made one year prior to its receipt are considered tax deductible. Please confirm this information with your accountant.


Form 990-N e-postcard requirement for small 501(c)(3) organizations (under $50,000) each year.


As a tax-exempt organization, you need to be aware of public disclosure requirements for non-profits in case you receive a request for your annual information return or application for tax-exemption. Information that must be included is included in this report from The Alliance for Justice.