Here are the necessary steps to form a California non-profit corporation. This is not intended to be an exhaustive guidebook but rather a general outline in which the reader can ascertain the basic framework behind incorporation and approval for tax exempt status.
Choose a name
Naturally you need to know the name of your company before you can start, namely incorporate. The easiest way to check to see if your desired name is taken is to go to the California Secretary of State's website and do a name search. Its not fail-safe but its still pretty reliable. http://kepler.sos.ca.gov/
Draft and submit Articles of Incorporation to the Sec. of State
The Articles of Incorporation are the primary rules that govern a corporation. At a minimum, the Articles will contain the name of the corporation, its stated purpose, its agent for service of process and its tax exempt status. The Secretary of State has sample Articles of Incorporation that can be used. http://www.sos.ca.gov/business/corp/pdf/amendments/corp-amdtnp.pdf
Draft Corporate Bylaws
The bylaws lay out the governing rules for the corporation that are typically omitted from the Articles of Incorporation.For example, the bylaws will set out when meetings are held, how many directors there are, how voting is conducted, how many officers there are, etc.
Draft minutes of first meeting
In the first meeting, directors are typically to elected, bylaws are approved, the Articles of Incorporation, etc. The minutes record this action and from there, the corporation can move forward with its stated goals.
Apply for a Federal Employer Identification Number
This is much easier than it was in the past, it takes about 5 minutes to obtain an EIN as opposed to 4 as was in the past. https://sa2.www4.irs.gov/modiein/individual/legal-structure.jsp
Apply for federal tax exemption
This is the doozy when it comes to forming a non-profit corporation. IRS Form 1023 is long and asks very probing questions. It will take hours to complete. Although, the instructions provided by the IRS on how to complete Form 1023 are very helpful. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1023.pdf
Apply for California tax exemption
If your non-profit is granted tax exempt status by the IRS, California will automatically grant your non-profit tax exempt status as well provided that you submit a copy of the determination letter for tax exempt status and complete Franchise Tax Board Form 3500A. http://www.ftb.ca.gov/forms/2008/08_3500a.pdf
File a Statement of Information with the Sec. of State
Within 90 days of incorporating, you must file a statement of information with the California Secretary of State. The form is SI-100. http://www.sos.ca.gov/business/corp/pdf/so/corp_so100.pdf
Register with Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts
If your non-profit holds assets, such as money or property, you must register with the California Attorney General. The form is CT-1. http://ag.ca.gov/charities/forms/charitable/ct1-form.pdf
Each year, your non-profit must file a statement of assets held with the California Attorney General. Form RRF-1 http://ag.ca.gov/charities/forms/charitable/rrf1_form.pdf And file Form 990 with the IRS before April 15 http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/f990rez.pdf There are other steps involved in the non-profit formation process but these are the most important ones.