How to Start a Nonprofit in High School


How to Start a Nonprofit in High School

High school students with a strong passion for a social cause, philanthropy, or the arts should consider taking their involvement to a higher level by founding a nonprofit organization. This is no easy task - there are a lot of steps when learning how to start a nonprofit in high school. But that’s one of the reasons that colleges will be impressed by your efforts!

The first step is to focus on your goals. When you’re thinking about how to start a nonprofit in high school, there are different kinds of charitable organizations you might consider establishing:

  • Type 1: You marshal financial donations and resources toward an umbrella organization that has already been created and registered.
  • Type 2: You start the nonprofit from the ground up. This would mean holding a bank account, accepting substantial donations from others, potentially hiring a staff, and generally running the organization in the manner of a company.

Type 1 Organizations are generally easier to start, though sometimes less meaningful and impressive than Type 2 Organizations. Think about your ability to take on the various requirements before making your decision! Here are considerations to keep in mind when thinking about how to start a nonprofit in high school.

How to Start a Nonprofit in High School: Organization Type 1

When figuring out how to start a nonprofit in high school, are you trying to start a group within your school that utilizes donations of time toward combating a particular issue? Are you going to do small-scale fundraising events at school and in your community? And mostly donate money from local sources directly to other organizations or causes? If so, Organization Type 1 is the right match for you. In most cases, you don’t need to bother actually creating a formal legal entity or going through the complex process of registering and maintaining your tax-exempt status.

Options for Creating Organization Type 1

What will be important here is choosing your group’s structure. Any of the following methods will work for a Type 1 nonprofit, but being clear about your goals from the outset will be helpful.

1. Start a club at your high school. The school will serve as an umbrella organization for your nonprofit, providing insured spaces for meetings or functions. In addition, your club members will be at the heart of mobilizing your initiatives.

2. Operate under the authority of a larger, established nonprofit organization. This means that you’ll be forming a branch or subset, which allows you to borrow their legal framework while still having freedom to pursue your particular goals.

3. Find a community organization or company to be the local sponsor or “umbrella” for your entity. You would also use this company’s space for meetings, and have their support as you put on events. Pursuing your nonprofit in this way can give you an immediate outlet into the community.

With any of these three methods, you need to ensure that donors make their donations directly to your chosen umbrella nonprofit, such that there are no tax consequences for you. You should check with your chosen umbrella group before creating your own website or  social media platforms that espouse your mission, attract your own membership, and supply other resources. Even though your group will not be fully independent, you will want to make it your own!

How to Start a Nonprofit in High School: Organization Type 2

Or, perhaps you want to raise money through a variety of sources, apply for grants, and save up money in a bank account to develop something that will have more potential to achieve your charitable goals. In this case, you’ll need to do so by creating your own formal nonprofit without an umbrella organization. This is a big task! Be aware that it quickly gets complex when you get into the weeds of nonprofit, tax-exempt status.

It is highly recommended that you seek legal guidance - there are streamlined ways to accomplish many of the below steps through online nonprofit creation services offered by LegalZoom,, or many others. But here’s a general overview for how you can create Organization Type 2:

Steps for Creating Organization Type 2

1. Search for Nonprofit Startup Resources in your particular state using this tool. Understanding these nuances and specificities from the get-go will help you ensure that the foundation of your nonprofit is a strong one.

2. Choose a name for your nonprofit. Using your own state’s website tools, ensure that the name you select is unique. For example, if you are in Connecticut, you would use this “Name Lookup Tool". You can get creative! Brainstorm an original name that clearly captures your mission.

3. Appoint a Board of Directors. You’ll want to establish this leadership from the start for guidance when drafting bylaws for your organization. Bear in mind - your board can be as small as one or two people. But creating this infrastructure will provide you support as you navigate this process.

4. File the incorporation paperwork in your state. Using the resources and assistance from organizations listed in Step #1 will help you with this. You can look up your state office through the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO).

5. Apply for tax-exempt status - the details of this step are very complicated, and can be found here.

6. Open a bank account for your organization. You’ll need to bring your federal tax identification number for the entity, the articles of incorporation, and the bylaws or a signed operating agreement.

7. Obtain any necessary licenses and permits. These are typically only necessary if you’ll be hiring employees or selling something, but there are other applicable cases as well. Here are some guidelines to get you started.

After completing these steps, donors will make their donations directly to your nonprofit! You should build your own website and social media platforms that espouse your mission, attract your own membership, and supply other resources.


There are many steps when thinking through how to start a nonprofit in high school! Remember, creating the organization within the proper legal framework is simply the beginning. Having an official entity, and a formal position in one, is a good first step. However, it is almost meaningless without tangible achievements that show colleges examples of your impact within a community. Actively work towards social causes by starting a nonprofit today!


David Mainiero, Co-Founder and Director of Operations of InGenius Prep, is an experienced educator and academic and admissions counselor with over almost a decade of experience helping students unlock their potential and achieve their dreams. Having founded and run multiple and small businesses, David has a strong entrepreneurial track record.

He graduated from Dartmouth College Summa Cum Laude with Highest Honors in History with a focus on Nationalism in the Near East and was inducted as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Several years later, he earned a JD from Harvard Law School. To this day, he believes that the most important moments in his own education were learning with his peers during his time as a Policy Debater in high school and college.

David knows firsthand what success looks like and how to achieve it; his passion to help students discover their own passions and realize their fullest potential motivates him to travel all around the world to share his visions for educational access.

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