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What Is A Nonprofit Organization

What is a nonprofit organization? Nonprofits are not the same as for profit businesses. Nonprofit organizations can receive exemption from the tax system as long as their purpose includes the promotion or dissemination of social welfare. Non-profit organizations include hospitals, universities, and charitable organizations. Education, partnerships and community are critical components in achieving nonprofit success. Nonprofits differ from a for profit corporation as they reinvest all money received to fund it's goal and offer a social benefit such as churches.

Nonprofit organizations cannot give away money to directors or other board members for their own benefit. If such circumstances arise, it is considered a conflict of interest. Nonprofits must publicly release information regarding financial and operating activities for donors to understand how the donations were used. The number of nonprofit organizations has risen in recent years. Many nonprofit organizations rely on fundraising from the community.

What is a For-Profit Organization?

A for-profit organization has a purpose to earn money. Most major corporations in America are for-profit organizations who provide their customers with goods and services. The business owner makes a profit from the for-profit and is liable to pay shareholder and investor fees if it has. When it comes to creating an entity you need a company to be a business. Become registered with a business entity in any state where the company is located. Your business may consist of corporations, LLCs, sole proprietorships or partnerships. They cannot operate as a non-profit organization.

What is the Main Purpose of a Nonprofit Organization?


NPO's are like a non-profit organization which do not make profits for their owners. All the money generated by doing business is redirected towards running the organization. However, non-profit organizations cannot serve private interests. Unlike a business entity, a nonprofit corporation must simply achieve its objectives without providing a service in exchange for money. Typical examples are recreational organizations, such as sports clubs, or fraternal organizations that exist to provide a service for members' enjoyment. Those companies need to obtain tax exemptions from the IRS, which includes tax exemptions for sales tax.

Difference Between a Nonprofit and Charitable Organizations

Some people believe nonprofits are similar in some ways to charitable groups, but that doesn't always hold true. The term charitable organization is restricted mainly to NPOs that offer assistance to the public. Charitable entities fall under nonprofit status called 501(c)(3) - as all true nonprofits, but the difference is they exist to provide a service to the public and the local community. Most people think of 501(c)(3)s as national charities but not all nonprofits are charities. Non-profit groups can't be taxed, but they do not always exist for public charity 501(c)(3) purposes. All charities have a mission statement that explains to donors how the directors use the contributions.

Tell Me the Purpose of Nonprofits?

Now we know what a nonprofit organization is, let us look at what nonprofit organizations are supposed to do. Most nonprofit organizations offer unique benefits to their communities. Boys and Girls Clubs of America concentrate on youth programs and education, while the Alzheimer's Association concentrates its efforts towards finding and increasing awareness about Alzheimer's disease. Other examples donors should be aware of include: scientific purposes, churches, or public safety. Still with other nonprofits, their mission focuses on preventing cruelty to animals or a social cause to provide aid or a public service. It is the main objective of non-profit organization to provide a public benefit. Whatever the mission or purpose of the organization, the main theme is to promote the greater good.

Types of Nonprofits

Many nonprofits are listed as charitable entities under the IRS Code. Some of the most common not-for-profit organizations include:

Social Advocacy

These nonprofits are classified under code 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue, social advocacy groups promote various social or political initiatives. They usually organize fundraising to raise revenue for the causes they represent. The social welfare organizations then use the gathered funds to lobby political groups in favor of those causes.


Foundations are nonprofit organizations that operate to fund other not-for-profit organizations and serve other social causes, such as educational programs and bring awareness to various social issues. Most foundations are established by wealthy individuals and need to donate a certain portion of their income to keep their foundation status. Also, although they are allowed to support various not for profit organizations that use political lobbying, they are banned from any direct political activity.

Charitable Organizations

According to charitable statistics there are over one million charities registered in the United States. Similar to educational, scientific, religious and literary organizations, public charity are registered with the IRS tax code under 501 (c)(3) and have tax exempt status, therefore any donations made to them are tax-deductible. There are many types of charitable organizations, with the some of the most popular dealing with relieving hunger, providing education to various groups, clean water, animal welfare, and low-income housing groups.

Social Clubs and Recreational Clubs

Filed under section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue code, the purpose of these associations is to serve as a not for profit organization to organize several recreational activities where their members can gather to socialize and enjoy themselves. Nonprofit organizations like sports leagues and country clubs provide a public service and operate under this nonprofit sector.

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Which Legal Entity is the Best?

You will need to know what legal entity will best suit your not for profits business needs. Ultimately, the different types of business structures can have advantages or disadvantages. For profit corporations like most businesses, distribute profit to individuals and shareholders, since this is not true for not for profits, the type of business entity is different. In the end, for-profits could generate cash through private investors and then share in equity. Since for profit organizations are formed for generating profit, they may incorporate as LLC, Sole Proprietor, or INC.

Since not for profits are tax exempt and may not enhance individuals financially, they need to form as a different business structure. In other words, nonprofit organizations need to incorporate as a not-for-profit corporation with the state in which they exist. The process of creating a legal entity for a non profit organization is not universal and varies by state. After you form as a nonprofit with the state, you will then need to file form 1023 with Internal Revenue to obtain a nonprofit designation and tax exempt status. The IRS designates many different types of nonprofit, and will choose which one is right for your business. This will ensure that nonprofits can collect donations of individuals, organizations and foundations without legal or financial ramifications.

What is a 501(c)(3) Organization?


IRS Section 501(c)(3) provides for the taxation of non-profit organizations. Organizations that require Section 501(c)(3) are exempt from federal income taxes. The IRS recognizes about 30 kinds of nonprofits that qualify as 501(c)(3) organizations. The IRS has made it possible that all donations for the organization may qualify as income. The IRS provides 501(c)(3) taxation for charitable organization, church or religious organizations and private foundations.

You always want to check the 501 c 3 status of nonprofits before donating to make sure such organizations are tax exempt, and donors will receive a deduction on your tax return.

Internal Revenue Code

According to Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for for exempt purposes as set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may benefit any private shareholder or individual. In addition, for your business to be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Code it may not attempt to influence legislation. That means it may not fund campaign activity for or against political candidates. Section 501(c)(3) states not for profits are restricted in how much political and legislative (lobbying) activities they may conduct.

Organizations as they are described in section 501(c)(3) are commonly referred to as charitable organizations,are eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions in accordance with Code section 170. This means donors can receive tax deductions as their donation is tax deductible under the tax code 501(c)(3), subject to the nonprofit's tax exempt status.

The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of individuals and may not enrich any private shareholder or individual. If the organization engages in such behavior with a person having substantial influence over the organization, such as a director, they may be subject to an excise tax. An excise tax may also be imposed on the person and any organization managers that approved the transaction.

Organizing a Nonprofit Organization


All nonprofits face decisions regarding incorporation. It's important for nonprofits to create and operate as a nonprofit organization. The actual formation of the organization and the establishment thereof in operation would be a new task. The process is similar or even better to setting up a business and is an important undertaking that must be carried out with diligence. The term "non-profit" has a positive impact on a company. Those interested in forming nonprofit organizations can start by identifying their primary purpose and mission.

In order to use the terms nonprofit organization or nonprofit, they must form differently, as the section 501 c and state law differ from business organization articles of incorporation. A nonprofit needs to have a board of directors, and benefit the public interest. It's mission statement must incorporated into it's bylaws, as well that upon dissolution of the corporation all assets will be distributed to another nonprofit or local government, as part of not for profit terms in section 501 c. The bylaws, since they are tax exempt organizations, must be approved by the IRS. Some tax exempt groups under section 501 c are fraternal organizations, state government and political organizations.

The benefits associated with a nonprofit business incorporation are various. Among the best advantages are the ones that are common among for-profit business corporations, where the liabilities do not fall upon you as an individual.

Special Considerations

Organizations which are 501c3 tax eligible can be classified as public charities and private foundations. What differentiates these two groups is what is their source of financial assistance. Public charities are organizations which earn significant amounts of money from government grants or general public money. About a third of a foundations revenue will come from the public's donations (including donations from individuals, corporations, and other non-profit organizations), with the rest from wealthy individuals who are usually the founder.

Private Foundations

Generally, private foundations have the backing and funding from individuals and corporations, and they obtain their main revenue through a small group of donors. Private foundations have strict rules that apply to charities. All 501c(3) charities will be declared a public charity if the organization is proven by the IRS to comply with federal law. Generally speaking, contributions from a public foundation are less taxable than contributions from a public charity. A private foundation is funded by private individuals not by individual donors. Most nonprofit companies must file Form 1024 or Form 1024-EZ within 30 months of incorporation.

Requirements of a 501(c)(3) Organization Tax Exempt Status


For the purposes of 501c(3), an organization is liable to pay no taxes to the person whose interests it serves, including those of its founder or its descendants. The Company has an obligation not to share the net income with any individual but to use its own profits to support its charitable activities. The IRS defines that 501(c)(3) organizations are also prohibited from using their actions to affect the law, including participation in campaigns that support or deny political candidates. It must be stated in it's bylaws and articles of incorporation that it will operate to benefit the public and non enrich any individual.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a 501(c)(3) Organization

The 501 (c)(3) designation provides numerous advantages for the designated organization and their people. Those who donate are eligible to receive an income tax deduction if they pay income tax. The organization can receive government funding and grants as part of its mission. On the other hand some disadvantages are that the organization must fulfill its mission as per its mission to qualify for a grant, and setting up and running a nonprofit is a very time consuming effort.

Fundraising is an Advantage

Non-profits may employ various approaches to raise cash in a variety of ways. The tax exemption status allows donors to deduct gifts from income taxes. This allows for, in the nonprofit world, fundraising activities that accept contributions to raise money. Fundraising events such as, a run sponsored by members of the local community, and funding a nonprofit is an example of how they raise money.

Limited Purposes is a Disadvantage

In order to be exempt under the tax laws, and maintain that exemption, a nonprofit organization can only perform limited functions listed in state and federal laws. Many nonprofits are also not allowed to lobby for political gain. Nonprofits are not controlled by a single individual and must share control as a requirement. The paperwork is very extensive in nonprofit organizations, as they must file 990 forms and make it available to the general public. Which brings us to our next disadvantage. Nonprofits receive way more scrutiny from the general public than a for profit, a lot more. Finally, there are many costs to consider when filing for nonprofit status.

Tell Me the Best Way to Start a 501(c)3


Those who create an independent 501 (c)(3) organization must specify what they are aiming to do and what their mission is. If a person has no idea about their name, check for this name from your local authorities to see if it is available. Alternatively, secure the name if you plan to file an incorporation declaration. Article of incorporation is submitted to the state where it is established and is required by state regulations for Non-Profit Organizations. Once completing your application, you will need a 501(c)(3) IRS exemption and state exemption. When you complete this form, make a formal bylaw for your organization detailing its governance structures.

How Much Does it Cost to Start a 501(c)3?

The cost of forming 501(c)(3) varies depending on the organization's need. However, the costs are approximated as each organization is unique. For example, filing incorporated documents is usually $100. IRS Form 1023 filing fees are $300. However, a company that expects to earn less than $50,000 annually can file for $275. There are also other costs to consider for a nonprofit, such as nonprofit logo design and website development to name a few.

Tell Me the Difference Between 501c(3) and 501c(4)

A charitable corporation is a non-public corporation which provides for charitable or religious purposes and is designated a 501(c)(3) status. These organizations cannot lobby. Alternatively 501(c)(4) charities may be allowed to lobby on their nonprofit's behalf.

How Long Does it Take to Get a 501c(3) Determination Letter?

The IRS sends 501(c)(3) determination letters after applying for the 501(c)(3) exemption. The letter will be sent within 3-4 months from the date of the filing. If they need further information from you may extent that time. Also it is worth noting, that due to the Coronavirus many individuals have seen even longer delays.

Do You Need to Be a Corporation to Get a 501(c)(3) Status?

Yes! The IRS says forming a trust, company, or association is the only way to obtain 501c-3 status.

Can You Change Your Legal Entity?

A company will often be established as an organization that has chosen to transform to another. The answer could be simple, however it may vary depending on the type of entity involved.

From Nonprofit to For-Profit

It's possible that you want to convert your nonprofit into an independent company. Maybe you believe you are more able to gain financial stability as an independent contractor. Or perhaps you want to work outside of regulations for nonprofit organizations. If you have considered the possibility of using a charitable conversion plan, you must notify the IRS by writing a statement on your nonprofit plan.

From For-Profit to Nonprofit

For-profits are harder to convert into a nonprofit as IRS officials are looking to discourage companies from doing so in order to avoid taxes. But the process isn't as complex as forming nonprofit organizations from scratch. While you can retain the nonprofit name if you want your nonprofit to use it for a nonprofit organization, nonprofit organizations require the money to be invested elsewhere.

The Bottom line

A 501c3 is an organization that has a purpose. Most people know of nonprofit organizations that existed as a church or charity, but they also include private funds. As long as the operation supports its mission, it is advantageous for tax treatment, this means avoiding federal income tax and avoiding unemployment taxes.