Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Starting a Herp Society

©1995 Melissa Kaplan


While the number of herp societies across the country is growing, you may still find yourself living in an area where the nearest society is too far away to take advantage of their meetings and resources. If you are interested in setting up a herp society, here is what it takes to do it formally. The details may vary from state to state (and, country to country), depending upon what the regulations are relating to corporations in general, nonprofit corporations in particular, and tax regulations. You will have to do some research on the local, state and federal level to make sure you are covering all possible bases. The following is based on my experience of setting up three nonprofit all-volunteer society-type organizations in California.

Initially, there's a lot of work to do and not too many people to do it. Since the organization doesn't yet exist, you or the individuals working with you will need to fund the startup expenses out of your own pockets and may need to keep funding it for the first year or so until membership, subscriptions and other revenues are enough to pay operating expenses, and expect that a very small group will be doing it, and funding it personally, for the first year or so.

  1. Find at least 3 other like-minded people and form a board. You will need to elect officers (at minimum, a president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary), draw up a mission statement, decide on things like frequency of meetings, newsletter, membership dues, etc.

  2. Contact your secretary of state and get the packet you need on forming a nonprofit corporation. Stress nonprofit as the paperwork they will send is different than for a for-profit corporation. The forms contain boilerplate language for the required Articles of Incorporation and By-laws. Just use the wording for the proper corporation type they indicate, fill in the blanks and make the necessary changes (i.e., number of board-members-at-large, terms of office, etc.)

  3. Contact the IRS and get the forms you need to get an FEIN (federal employer tax identification number) and form 1023 (to apply for a 501(c)(3) determination - your federal nonprofit status). It's a pain in the neck, but you can fill out the paperwork yourself and get your FEIN without having to pay an attorney or accountant to do so. You can call the IRS office listed on the FEIN form to get the number, then follow their directions about mailing or faxing the form back within 24 hours.

    Warning: the IRS estimates that it takes 57 hours to figure out the 1023 (and, from personal experience, believe it!). You have to get your state nonprofit incorporation done first before you can apply for a federal have 15 months from the date you get your state incorporation to file for your IRS determination letter.

    State filing fees vary. If they require a prepayment of taxes (almost $1000 in California), request from them the form that you need to file to get a waiver. In California, that leaves a $30 Secretary of State fee, a $35 Franchise Tax Board fee (and a $10 annual fee to the Secretary of State.) The IRS is going to cost you another $150 to ask for a letter confirming your 501(c)(3) status, but you will have 15 months from the date you get your state nonprofit status before you have to file with the IRS.

    Keep copies of everything and log all phone calls.

  4. Find a place to meet; pick a day/evening for meetings. Remember: no matter where you decide to meet and on what day or time, not everybody will be happy about it. You'll just have to tough it out!

  5. Develop your brochure and flyers. Get them out to every pet store and vet and any schools/colleges/universities, animal regulation agencies and humane societies. See if the zoo can announce it in their newsletter and will post in employee/staff areas.

  6. Contact the local newspapers and see if they have a weekly section where they print announcements of meetings. Find out the guidelines for submissions (here you have to get it in 2 weeks before the date of publication).

  7. For your meetings, think about meetings you've gone to. Brainstorm with your board, talking about the things you liked, didn't like, how you felt as a outsider attending another group's meeting, the tone you would like your meetings to have and how to go about it. You will need to decide if you want sign ins, do raffles, sell stuff (books, herps, prey, etc.) at meetings. You need to get people involved in lining up speakers, developing programs and getting raffle prizes if you decide to do it.

  8. Expect to do most of the work yourself, with some or most of your board flaking off, and general members content to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. It may take a couple years or more to really get people into working with you.

  9. While not critical initially, make things look as nice as possible...with a desktop publishing program it is really pretty easy to make good looking brochures, newsletters, even stationary, forms, flyers, etc.

  10. You will need/want a logo. You as a board can design/create, or open it to membership. Ask around for a graphic artist who may do the final rendition and prepare camera-ready originals for you in different sizes. We found a graphic artist who normally charges $800 for such work, but for 'baby' nonprofits he only charges $85. I found someone to scan it and convert to a .bmp file which I use in our all of our documents as needed.

  11. Post notices on AOL in the Herpetological Information folder in the Pet Care forum (or similar areas on Prodigy and CompuServe), and in the rec.pets.herp newsgroup on the Internet. If your vet has online access to any of the vet BBS services/listservs, perhaps s/he can post there, too. Some herp publications, like Breeder's Monthly, will publish herp society information (name, address, minimum information) for free - others, like R & A Magazine, charge for this service.

      Email me your society name, address and contacts information, and I will add your new society to the list for your state that is either posted at my Herp Society page or that I send out via email. Be sure to include any email addresses or society websites if you put them up.

  12. Newsletters are a drag. It will be very difficult to get original material, so you / the editor will end up having to write most if not all him/herself. You can reprint articles from other newsletters being sure to give full attribution. If you use any articles that are published on line, you should first ask the author if you may reprint and get information for attribution -- and it is always nice to send them a copy of the newsletter their article appears in. You can try to set up exchanges with other herp societies...some have good newsletters, most just reprint what everyone else has reprinted or are just comprised of society business because no one is submitting anything.

    Postage costs more than the copying costs of your newsletter (find a place that makes good copies cheap - places like Kinko's and PIP will kill you). Offset printing is very expensive so unless you are rolling in the green stuff (and I don't mean iguanas!), I personally think the membership doesn't mind good quality photocopies and the money saved used for other things, like buying books which members can purchase at prices less than at pet stores, etc.

  13. Once money starts coming in, you should open a bank account. You will need a copy of the articles notarized/stamped by the Secretary of State to open it in the society's name...a nice bank will make a copy and hand you back the original. Keep as many of the originals as you can (the state typically sends you three notarized copies with your notification of status letter) as it will cost you to get additional State originals in the future. Also, save the IRS determination letter - they don't like it when people come back saying "Uhm, we lost it."

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