The previous article in this series explained what the term 501(c)(3) means, and briefly which organizations can qualify for tax-exempt status under 501(c)(3). As explained in that article, many non-profit entities seek tax-exempt status under this provision as charitable organizations.
In order to qualify under the charitable portion of 501(c)(3), your organization must be operated for a purpose that is recognized by the federal government as “charitable.” Purposes that are recognized include:
• Relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged;
• Advancement of religion;
• Advancement of education or science;
• Erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works;
• Lessening the burdens of government;
• Lessening neighborhood tensions;
• Eliminated prejudice and discrimination;
• Defending human and civil rights secured by law; and
• Combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.
When seeking tax-exempt status, the non-profit organization must go through an application process to be recognized as having 501(c)(3) status. During this process, the organization must ensure that they operate for one or more of the purposes listed above to qualify as a charitable organization.
If the organization’s application is approved, it will be considered tax-exempt for purposes of federal law. There are two major tax benefits to obtaining 501(c)(3) status. First, the organization is exempt from paying federal income tax. Second, the organization can receive tax deductible contributions. This allows people who donate to the organization to deduct their contribution from their income, which may lower the income tax they would otherwise owe. This provides a direct benefit to the donors, and an indirect benefit to the organization. Because the donors’ contributions may help lower their tax burden, it can encourage donors to contribute to an organization that has 501(c)(3) status over one that doesn’t.
If you believe your organization could benefit from having status as 501(c)(3), it is best to speak with an attorney in your state to discuss the requirements further. This article provides general guidelines, but you should seek advice specific to your situation to determine whether this is the best option for your organization.