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501(c)(3) organization

 

A 501(c)(3) organization is a corporation, trust, unincorporated association, or other type of organization exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of Title 26 of the United States Code. It is one of the 29 types of 501(c) nonprofit organizations in the US.

Due to the tax deductions associated with donations, loss of 501(c)(3) status can be highly challenging if not fatal to a charity's continued operation, as many foundations and corporate matching funds do not grant funds to a charity without such status, and individual donors often do not donate to such a charity due to the unavailability of the deduction.

Prior to October 9, 1969, nonprofit organizations could declare themselves to be tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) without first obtaining Internal Revenue Service recognition by filing Form 1023 and receiving a determination letter. A nonprofit organization that did so prior to that date could still be subject to challenge of its status by the Internal Revenue Service.

Individual may take a tax deduction on a charitable gift to a 501(c)(3) organization that is organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.

All 501(c)(3) organizations must make available for public inspection its application for tax-exemption, including its Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ and any attachments, supporting documents, and follow-up correspondence with the Internal Revenue Service. The same public inspection requirement applies to the organization's annual return, namely its Form 990, Form 990-EZ, Form 990-PF, Form 990-T, and Form 1065, including any attachments, supporting documents, and follow-up correspondence with the Internal Revenue Service, with the exception of the names and addresses of donors on Schedule B. Annual returns must be made publicly available for a three-year period beginning with the due date of the return including any extension of time for filing.

Section 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from supporting political candidates, as a result of the Johnson Amendment enacted in 1954. Section 501(c)(3) organizations are subject to limits on lobbying, having a choice between two sets of rules establishing an upper bound for their lobbying activities. Section 501(c)(3) organizations risk loss of their tax-exempt status if these rules are violated. An organization that loses its 501(c)(3) status due to being engaged in political activities cannot subsequently qualify for 501(c)(4) status.

Having an established congregation served by an organized ministry is of central importance. Points 4, 6, 8, 11, 12, and 13 are also especially important. Nevertheless, the 14-point list is a guideline, it is not intended to be all-encompassing, and other relevant facts and circumstances may be factors. Although there is no definitive definition of a church for Internal Revenue Code purposes, in 1986 the United States Tax Court said that "A church is a coherent group of individuals and families that join together to accomplish the religious purposes of mutually held beliefs. In other words, a church's principal means of accomplishing its religious purposes must be to assemble regularly a group of individuals related by common worship and faith." The United States Tax Court has stated that, while a church can certainly broadcast its religious services by radio, radio broadcasts themselves do not constitute a congregation unless there is a group of people physically attending those religious services. A church can conduct worship services in various specific locations rather than in one official location. A church may have a significant number of people associate themselves with the church on a regular basis, even if the church does not have a traditional established list of individual members.

Since section 501(c)(3)'s political-activity prohibition was enacted, "commentators and litigants have challenged the provision on numerous constitutional grounds," such as freedom of speech, vagueness, and equal protection and selective prosecution. Historically, Supreme Court decisions, such as Regan v. Taxation with Representation of Washington, suggested that the Court, if it were to squarely examine the political-activity prohibition of 501(c)(3), would uphold it against a constitutional challenge. However, some have suggested that a successful challenge to the political activities prohibition of Section 501(c)(3) might be more plausible in light of Citizens United v. FEC.

A 501(c)(3) organization is allowed to conduct some or all of its charitable activities outside the United States. A 501(c)(3) organization is allowed to award grants to foreign charitable organizations if the grants are intended for charitable purposes and the grant funds are subject to the 501(c)(3) organization's control. Additional procedures are required of 501(c)(3) organizations that are private foundations.

Donors' contributions to a 501(c)(3) organization are tax-deductible only if the contribution is for the use of the 501(c)(3) organization, and that the 501(c)(3) organization is not merely serving as an agent or conduit of a foreign charitable organization. The 501(c)(3) organization's management should review the grant application from the foreign organization, decide whether to award the grant based on the intended use of the funds, and require continuous oversight based on the use of funds.

If a 501(c)(3) organization sets up and controls a foreign subsidiary in order to facilitate its charitable work in a foreign country, then donors' contributions to the 501(c)(3) organization are tax-deductible even if they are intended to fund the charitable activities in the foreign country.

If a foreign organization sets up a 501(c)(3) organization for the sole purpose of raising funds for the foreign organization, and the 501(c)(3) organization sends substantially all contributions to the foreign organization, then donors' contributions to the 501(c)(3) organization are not tax-deductible to the donors.


 



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