Choose The Right Organizational Structure

Understanding Legal Structures & Social Enterprise

Nonprofit, for profit, or hybrid? Coming soon: an interactive video and case study-based website to help you explore the legal structure options available for your social enterprise.

In the meantime, explore these publications to learn about the different legal structures. Online resources should not replace a partnership with a lawyer. Use these items as educational tools to help guide the conversation


Find the right attorney 

Choosing the right organizational structure for your venture is one of the most important decisions you will make. A lawyer can help you understand the legal and tax implications of various organizational structures. Below are resources to help you connect with a lawyer that can advise you in this very important step.

  • TrustLaw Connect: Thomson Reuters Foundation
  • Lex Mundi: A network of international law firms
  • LawGives: Started at StartX, a new platform for matching clients and attorneys
  • Wilmerhale: A resource for entrepreneurs and founders of startups in various stages of growth

Legal Document Templates

Social enterprises use a wide variety of legal forms - and navigating through them can be a daunting task. These templates are great starting points to use in consultation with your attorney to adapt them to your personal circumstances.  

501(c) Bylaws

Board Member Contract

Volunteer Release and Waiver of Liability Form

Executive Director Agreement

Founder Collaboration Agreement

Mutual NDA (with comments)

Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation

Partnership Memorandum of Understanding

Employment Contract


Stanford Law School's Nonprofit Corporations Form and Sample Documents website also contains a collection of forms and precedent legal documents relating to nonprofit organizations. The documents relate to a variety of matters, including corporate governance; programs; earned income activities; and fiscal sponsorship and other relationships unique to nonprofits.


Fiscal Sponsorship

Fiscal sponsorship is a formal arrangement in which a 501(c)(3) public charity sponsors a project that may lack exempt status. This alternative to starting your own nonprofit allows your idea to become a project for an existing organization, allowing you to seek grants and solicit tax-deductible donations under your sponsor's exempt status.

Why consider it?

  • Low cost approach to launching/incubating your social venture
  • Testing ground for your startup
  • Solution to receive tax deductible donations
  • Back office support, financial and HR management

Why not?

  • It’s not your money. Fiscal Sponsor retains discretion and control
  • It's not free: fees average 5%-10% of annual project revenue
  • It offers a solution to receive tax deductible donations
  • It provides back office support, financial and HR management

Local Fiscal Sponsorship Resources

  • Tide Foundation
  • Silicon Valley Foundation
  • The San Francisco Foundation
  • Grant Space



real life examples: case studies


more case studies from the Global Health Innovation Insight Series


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