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I helped start a non-profit group for professional education -- see http://www.aacis.org/

Filing the forms for Iowa incorporation as a nonprofit was very easy. Getting the 501(c)3 approval from the IRS was frustrating -- there was some back-and-forth as our articles of incorporation didn't have just precisely the wording that the IRS wanted to see. I believe that it had to do with specifying that if the organization disbanded, all assets would be given to another non-profit organization. It was sort of like "Mother May I" by mail -- but eventually we did get the approval. You might want to have your articles of incorporation and your IRS application reviewed by a CPA with some experience with nonprofits to forestall any problems.

Basically it's a two-step process. Incorporate in your state as a nonprofit, and then get 501(c)3 approval from the IRS.
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