What is a lake association?
Each lake is unique
and each has its own group of people the property owners and
visitors to the lake who are passionate about the quality of
the lake and its future. It is human nature to protect what we care
about, and it is up to everyone who cares about a particular lake
to leave it clean as a legacy for future generations.
are organized groups of people who come together because they care
about a specific lake. As an organized group they can work toward
determining and carrying out the best actions to protect the lake.
Lake associations represent the first line of defense for protecting
the water quality and ecological integrity of a lake.
What do lake associations
serve a variety of valuable functions. They may monitor the condition
of the lake, develop lake management plans, educate shoreland property
owners about individual and collective actions to protect the lake,
or network with other lake associations to learn from their experiences.
They can work with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR)
to improve fish habitat or stock fish, get permits for aquatic plant
removal, or maintain the lake access. They can also provide volunteers
to assist in lake and watershed projects, such as revegetating shorelines
or monitoring water quality.
An important function
of a lake association is to serve as the organized voice for its membership
with township and county government and as the watchdog for enforcement
of local ordinances. A lake association can join a county coalition
of lake associations to have a stronger collective voice in local
government. Working in partnership with the Minnesota Lakes Association
(MLA), a lake association also has a voice at the state level for
legislation that impacts Minnesotas lakes.
Sometimes, a lake
association forms to solve a particular problem, such as an infestation
of the aquatic nuisance species Eurasian watermilfoil, unwanted development,
poor water quality, or water level concerns. However, you dont
have to wait for a problem. Be proactive and form an association now
to prevent problems in the future. If your lake has a lake association
and you dont belong, consider joining now.
What steps do we
take to organize?
Forming a lake association
isnt difficult; all you need is a core of people who care and
want to make it happen. Theres only one basic rule if
you and others who use the lake resource dont take action to
protect your lake, no one else will!
The Minnesota Lakes
Association provides these suggestions:
- List reasons for forming a lake association. Ask other local lake
associations for advice or support.
- Hold a public meeting. Invite everyone individuals, groups,
or business owners who might have an interest in your lake.
- Publicize the first meeting to the entire lake community. Check
with your county land records department (usually the assessors
or auditors office) to find out if there is a list of shoreland
- Reserve a convenient location at a time and date that doesnt
conflict with other events. Consider inviting a guest speaker to kick
off your first informational meeting.
- Choose a leader and recording secretary for the meeting. Discuss
the lake in general and then focus on specific issues common to all
- Invite participation on a 4- or 5-person steering committee to establish
the lake association. The steering committee will select a name, write
articles of incorporation, file with the State of Minnesota to establish
non-profit status, draft bylaws and a mission statement, and develop
a slate of candidates for the lake associations board of directors.
- Once the steering committee has finished, set the first official
meeting of the lake association to vote on the bylaws, elect a board
of directors, vote on dues, and develop committees to support future
action. Committees often include membership, water quality, social
activities, safety and recreation, and communications.
- Schedule an annual meeting and perhaps other social events throughout
What are some clues
to making a lake association successful?
- The address of the lake association should be a physical address,
not a post office box. Choose a permanent address, if possible.
- Set up a budget for at least one year based on annual membership
fees and donations. Annual expenses will relate to proposed projects,
newsletter costs, membership materials, mailing, executive secretary
- A maximum of 12 directors should be elected to the board of directors,
with only one-third required for a quorum (State statue 317A.235).
- The board of directors should elect the President, Vice-President,
Secretary, and Treasurer from within their membership.
- Actual dues, fees, or assessments charged for membership should
not be part of the bylaws; determine these by resolution so they can
be changed as needed. Keep the bylaws simple to begin with; they can
be modified at a later date.
- If your association plans to have a bank account, establish a Federal
Identification Number (EIN) by completing form SS-4 (see Step 4 in
next section for more specific information).
- Link to your County Coalition of Lake Associations (your local partner)
and the Minnesota Lakes Association (your state partner), for help
in protecting your lake for the future.
What steps do we
take to form a non-profit corporation in Minnesota?
The Minnesota Lakes Association encourages all lake associations
to formally incorporate with the State of Minnesota as a nonprofit
legal entity. Some associations may wish to take the next step, seeking
recognition as a federally tax-exempt organization under section 501(c)(3)
of the Internal Revenue Code. This allows contributions to the lake
association to be eligible for deductibility as a charitable contribution
and meets the eligibility requirement for most direct grant programs.
Non-profit organizations are regulated by a variety of government
agencies, including three primary offices with annual filing requirements:
1) The Internal Revenue Service; 2) The Minnesota Secretary of State;
and 3) The Minnesota Attorney Generals Office, Charities Division.
There are six primary steps in forming a nonprofit organization in
Minnesota. Steps 1 through 3 are necessary for incorporating as a
Minnesota nonprofit. Most often this status is all a lake association
needs. Once the certificate of incorporation is received, the association
is a legal entity, though without tax-exempt status. Establishing
a 501(c)(3) status might be advisable if contributors to the association
want to be able to deduct their donations or if the association is
doing extensive fundraising. For 501(c)(3) status, follow the steps
to become a Minnesota nonprofit (1-3) plus the additional steps (4-6).
The details of the steps can be found at www.mncn.org/howto,
including sample bylaws and articles of incorporation. The Minnesota
Lakes Association office also has samples (800-515-5253).
- Check for availability of the proposed name of the organization
by calling the Minnesota Secretary of States Office at 651-296-2803.
- File Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of States
Office. The filing and incorporation fee is $70. Forms can be obtained
or by calling the Secretary of States office. Because articles
of incorporation are difficult to amend later, MLA advises associations
to write their articles of incorporation initially to conform with
federal tax-exempt requirements, in case they should choose to become
a 501(c)(3) organization later. Write the articles to include the
required language in State statutes 317A, Minnesota Nonprofit Corporation
Act, and 501(c)(3) (IRS publication 557). State statutes are online
or you can purchase a copy from the Secretary of States office.
The association address must be a physical address, not a post office
box. A cover letter with the name/address of the person who will
receive the approved articles from the Secretary of States
office should accompany the materials, which should be sent to Secretary
of State, State of Minnesota, 180 State Office Building, St. Paul,
Minnesota, 55155. Each year, thereafter, your organization will
be sent an annual registration form, for which there is no filing
- Write Bylaws. Bylaws are an internal document that
describes how the association will operate and contains information
on membership, the board of directors, frequency of meetings, and
fiscal management. Bylaws do not have to be filed to incorporate
as a nonprofit in Minnesota, though they are encouraged for proper
management of the association. Bylaws are required to obtain federal
- Obtain Tax Exempt Status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Call the IRS to obtain forms (800-829-3676) and publication 557,
Tax Exempt Status for Your Organization. Forms are also available
online and can be completed online at www.irs.gov/formspubs/lists/0,,id=97401,00
using Adobe Acrobat Reader. Forms SS-4, 1023, and 8718 must be filed.
The filing fee is $500, if the organizational budget is likely to
average more than $10,000 per year over four years, or $150 if less.
The average processing time for form 1023 is 100 days; processing
for EIN application (form SS-4) takes approximately ten days.
- File for Minnesota Certification of Exempt Status (Form ST-16)
once federal tax-exempt status is received. Call Minnesota Department
of Revenue at 651-282-5255.
- Register With the State As a Charitable Organization. Contact
the Attorney Generals Office, Charities Division at 651-297-4613.
There is a $25 application fee; if revenue is greater than $350,000
per year, an annual certified audit must be submitted. Once 501(c)(3)
status is obtained, Federal Form 990 (Return of Organization
Exempt From Income Tax) must be filed annually with the IRS
and State Attorney Generals Office, Charities Division, no
later than five and one-half months after the end of the organizations
What is the Minnesota
The Minnesota Lakes
Association is a statewide 501(c)(3) organization with the mission
"to promote statewide advocacy to preserve and enhance Minnesotas
lakes and rivers." MLA helps lake associations get started and
helps with other organizational issues. MLA also provides guidance
on best management practices for lakes through their newsletter, on
their web site, and through statewide educational conferences and
networking events for members. The organization works closely with
state legislators to keep them informed about lake related issues
such as property taxes, water quality, pollution sources, exotic species,
and agency rules and regulations. It also supports a lobby to introduce
and fight for legislation to protect Minnesotas lakes. The MLA
Web site (www.mnlakes.org) contains
information on organizing a lake association, a bibliography of over
600 lake resources, the Sustainable Lakes Workbook in PDF format,
and archives of articles for use in your own lake association newsletter.
Who can I contact
if I have questions or a problem related to lake associations?
Check your local telephone
listing, the Who to Contact
section of the Minnesota Shoreland Management Resource Guide Web site,
or the Web sites listed below for:
- Your county Water
- Your local Planning
and Zoning Office
- Your county Soil
and Water Conservation District (SWCD) (www.maswcd.org)
- University of Minnesota
Extension Service (www.extension.umn.edu)
- Minnesota Lakes
Association (MLA) (www.mnlakes.org)
- North American Lake
Management Society (NALMS) (www.nalms.org)
What are some additional
resources related to lake associations?
- A Guidebook
for Lake Associations. 1997. Minnesota Lakes Association
- Sustainable Lakes
Workbook: A Guide to Developing a Lake Management Plan. 2000.
Minnesota Lakes Association
- Organizing Lake
Users: A Practical Guide. 1991. Terrene Institute