Non-profit is a corporate designation which governs how a corporation is established and operated. 501(c)(3) is a IRS exemption process which allows non-profit charitable organizations to operate as tax exempt entities, and provide tax incentives to donors and supporters.
I have provided a link, below, to the IRS web page regarding how 501(c)(3) exemption works. However, the 501(c)(3) qualification process is complex. If you intend to incorporate an non-profit company and seek tax exemption, I strongly encourage you to consult with an experienced corporate attorney. Failure to take the proper steps in obtaining your 501(c)(3) exemption could have drastic tax consequences. Good luck.
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As the previous stated - No they are not the same, A nonprofit is established on the State level and then can seek an exemption from federal taxation under the Internal Revenue Code. There are organizations that provide assistance for free but you would need to research this.
Well, first off, no one who is not licensed to practice law can give legal advice. It is a crime if they do. Next, a non-profit corporation is created under state law. Qualification as a tax-exempt entity is done under the Internal Revenue Code. Just creating a non-profit corporation does not mean that it will qualify for IRC Section 501c3 status. The reason you want tax exempt status is that it permits people to deduct donations to the tax-exempt organization on their tax return. If the organization does not have tax exempt status it will find it very difficult to raise money through donations, if not impossible. This is not something you can do on your own. Most major metropolitan areas have a tax exempt organization that assists people who want to start their own.
DISCLAIMER: This is not specific legal advice and does not establish an attorney/client relationship.
I agree with my colleagues, but would add that non-profits which are not charitable organizations do lots of successful fund raising. The trick is that although the donation can't be deducted as charitable, they can often be deducted as dues, marketing, advertising or some similar category.
Also, you should be aware that non-profit corporations do not have shareholders or owners. They are usually governed by volunteer boards. (Or in the case of the Red Cross, Goodwill, and similar organizations, well paid boards.)
In order to get any tax exempt qualification from the IRS., you will want to be able to show how the organization has used the funds raised in the past, in order to justify the exemption claimed. It is not simply a matter of filling out a form. Here's a link to the IRS site on the issue.