How to Start a Historical Organization

Minnesota has more than 300 historical organizations, over half of them organized in the last 30 years. Many are county or city historical societies; others are devoted to the preservation of a particular subject or culture.

Before you begin the work of establishing a new historical society, explore the possibility of accomplishing your goals by joining an already existing organization. Or you may conclude that a less formal structure such as a club or roundtable better suits your needs.

Things to keep in mind

1. Most organizations begin with a small, dedicated group of people who share an interest in history. Although it is important to begin work while enthusiasm is high, it is best to take time to lay sound organizational and legal groundwork. Doing so will help insure the survival of your organization.

Start by putting together a well-defined plan that spells out your purpose and goals. Meet with other county and local historical organizations to get their input and learn how they operate. Then use your plan to help generate interest in your organization among various segments of the community - local governments, chambers of commerce, park and recreation boards, schools, colleges and universities, and other community organizations. Keep a list of the people with whom you talk. Only after you've discussed your project with all likely constituents are you ready to call an organizational meeting.

2. Consider incorporation as a public, nonprofit educational organization with tax-exempt status. This brings many advantages:

  • Incorporation gives your organization its legal identity, allowing it to accept and disburse funds, own property and enter into contracts.
  • Incorporation protects board members from individual liability.
  • Tax-exempt status means that gifts to your organization are tax-deductible for the donors.
  • Tax-exempt organizations may affiliate with the Minnesota Historical Society, a requirement for public funding eligibility (see Section VI).

3. Steps to establish nonprofit, tax-exempt status

  • Prepare your Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws.
  • File these with the Minnesota Secretary of State.
  • Apply for affiliation with the Minnesota Historical Society.
  • Upon receipt of your recognition of incorporation by the State of Minnesota file for tax-exempt status with the IRS.
  • Upon receipt of your Letter of Determination from the IRS file for tax exemption with the State of Minnesota.


For detailed instruction about forming a nonprofit historical organization, the MNHS Local History Services has the booklet "How to Start a Historical Organization in Minnesota"(PDF).

Minnesota Secretary of State

Articles of Incorporation spelling out the organization's functions, powers, limits and responsibilities must be filed with the State of Minnesota. Chapter 317A of the Minnesota Statutes, known as the Minnesota Non-Profit Corporation Act, prescribes the required articles. Problems or questions about incorporation should be discussed with an attorney. The required forms can be found on the Secretary of State's web site.

Federal tax-exempt status

You may apply to the IRS for federal tax-exempt status after receiving your notice of incorporation from the State of Minnesota. A copy of your Articles of Incorporation must accompany your application; Form SS-4: Application for Employer Identification Number (this is required whether or not you plan to hire anyone); and Form 8718. After you have received your Letter of Determination, you may tell your donors that their gifts are tax-deductible.

To obtain necessary forms, write Internal Revenue Services, Room 380, 316 N. Robert St., St. Paul, MN 55101; call 800-829-1040; or download the forms from IRS online.

See also the Tax Information for Charities & Other Non-Profits.

Minnesota income tax exemption

Once you receive federal tax exemption, file for Minnesota State Income Tax Exemption. That will enable you to make qualifying tax-exempt purchases. Download the application for nonprofit exempt status.