NPO Management

How to Create a Nonprofit Organization in Canada

March 15, 2022

Do you have a particular cause that’s close to your heart? Whether it's supporting students to reach their full potential, providing support for the underserved, or caring for neglected animals, you’ll be more effective if you have your own NPO (nonprofit organization). Ready to jump in? Let’s get started!

Definition of an NPO

As you may have guessed from the name, nonprofits carry out their activities without the objective of generating profits. Rather than focusing on revenue, these organizations pursue an altruistic goal in one or more given fields (social, cultural, environmental etc.). NPOs have their own assets, rights, and obligations distinct from those of their members. 

Creating your NPO: Laying the Foundation

Before launching your organization, it's important to build a strong foundation in order to maximize impact. Ask yourself what the purpose of your organization will be and what population you will serve. 

Chances are, there are probably other NPOs that already operate in a similar capacity to your organization. This can make it challenging to differentiate your organization and, crucially, to raise funds. Try to identify a specific challenge you feel is unaddressed in your field or identify a new solution that hasn’t been tried before. This will help your organization stand out and hopefully bring greater care and attention to your cause. 

For example, there is probably at least one organization combating food insecurity in your area. Creating another food bank or soup kitchen could be a challenge if there are already established organizations providing this service. However, your organization can still stand out in terms of the solution it offers. Perhaps your organization will be the first to work with local farmers to provide free meals and combat food waste. Maybe you will focus specifically on people with limited means of transportation and focus on delivering meals rather than collecting food. While the problems we face are clear, the solutions often are not. Don’t be afraid to try something new or innovative to assist in your mission. 

Naming your NPO

Once you’ve identified your mission and target population, the next step is to name your organization. Think of the nonprofit world like a library. While we’ve all been told not to judge a book by its cover, most people are still more likely to choose something with a catchy title or well-designed cover than a plain paperback. Similarly, there are over 170 thousand nonprofit organizations in Canada. If you want your organization to stand out then a clear, concise, and catchy name is a must. 

Ideally, the name you choose will communicate to the outside world the mission or activity of your organization. 

When incorporating your organization in Canada, the name of your organization must contain several mandatory components. These include:

  • A prescribed term, such as: Association, Center, Centre, Fondation, Foundation, Institut, Institute or Society. 
  • A distinctive name (The Center for Adult Literacy vs. The Center)

Additionally, the name you choose should not create confusion with another pre-existing organization. Imagine the confusion if you created an agricultural organization named “Apple Corporation.”Resources like the registraire des entreprises can help you ensure the name you’ve chosen isn’t already in use. 

If you are incorporating in Quebec, then language laws must be respected. This means your name must have either a French name or a French version of your organization name. More information on naming and incorporating an NPO in Quebec can be found here.   

Incorporating your Nonprofit

You’ve defined your mission and chosen a name. Now comes the fun part– incorporating your organization :) Incorporating gives your organization certain rights, such as the right to use your name across Canada, limited liability, and better access to capital and grants. 

The application for the incorporation of an NPO is made by filling out the RE-303 form or the Non-Profit Incorporation Form. You can incorporate online by clicking here

In order to complete the application, you will need the English and French (if necessary) names for your organization. You will also need the signatures of all other applicants, along with their address and profession.  

In the RE-303 form, you must indicate the maximum amount of income from real estate that the corporation can acquire and own and the maximum amount of real estate that the corporation can acquire and own. It is advisable to enter a larger amount than seems necessary at first in order to avoid having to re-file. 

The "Objects" section of the form is used to indicate the object(s) for which the corporation is created. Be specific about this part, as the actions of the NPO will have to correspond to the provisions relating to its object or objects. The decision-making powers and their limits should be specified in section 6.

Additional Documentation

In addition to Form RE-303, you must also submit confirmation from the registry that your chosen name is not already in use, along with a sworn statement from the other signatory members, the required payment of $200 (or $250 if you file in-person), and an affidavit. 

The affidavit consists of one signing applicant vouching for the accuracy of the information provided. The administrator of the affidavit must fill in their name, address, occupation and provide a signature. 

Once you have successfully filed all the required documents and made the necessary payment, the registrar will issue your patent. They will also provide an enterprise number which provides legal identification of the organization. Congratulations! You are now one step closer to changing the world. Time to start thinking about your board of directors…

Next step? check out our guides to plan your yearly fundraising initiatives and start recruiting volunteers!