Once you’ve completed the process of securing your nonprofit’s tax-exempt status, the last thing you want to do is lose it. If you lead a 501(c)(3) organization, be sure to familiarize yourself with the IRS’s tax-exempt rules and prohibited activities to keep your status in good standing.
1. Political campaigning. 501(c)(3) nonprofits are banned from participating in any political campaign for or against a candidate running for public office. This applies to campaigns on all levels, including federal, state and local elections. Your organization will be in violation of the rule if it makes contributions to political campaign funds or issues public statements favoring or opposing a candidate. However, your nonprofit is allowed to engage in certain activities promoting voter registration and participation. It can also provide voter information, as long as it remains neutral.
2. Lobbying. Lobbying is defined as attempting to persuade members of a legislative body to propose, support, oppose, amend or repeal legislation. Essentially, your organization can’t try to convince a legislator to vote a certain way. As long as lobbying doesn’t represent a “substantial part” of your nonprofit’s overall activities, it generally won’t harm your tax-exempt status. But what you consider insubstantial may differ from the IRS’s definition. Consult your tax advisor for further details.
3. Unrelated business income. Nonprofits are not designed to make money, but that doesn’t mean your organization can’t earn income, as long as it furthers your tax-exempt mission and meets several other legal tests. A nonprofit’s unrelated business income is taxed at the same tax rate as corporate income. This tax is commonly known as the unrelated business income tax (UBIT) and is triggered when an organization’s annual income exceeds $1,000.
4. Annual reporting. You can’t simply apply for and receive a tax-exempt status, then forget about it. Your organization must also satisfy regular reporting obligations (with certain exceptions for most faith-based organizations), including filing these federal forms:
- Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax
- Form 990-EZ, Short Form Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax
- Form 990-N, Electronic Notice (ePostcard) for Tax-Exempt Organizations Not Required to File Form 990 or 990-E
Your state may also have reporting requirements, so check with your attorney or advisor for details.
5. Private benefit inurement. No part of a 501(c)(3) organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of a private shareholder or individual who has the opportunity to benefit. This prohibition is aimed at preventing insiders from profiting from their charitable services. Board members, officers, directors and other key employees all qualify as insiders. The ban against private inurement includes payment of dividends, unreasonable executive compensation arrangements and transfers of property to insiders for no or below-market value.
6. Stated purpose. Your tax status may be jeopardized if you stop operating in accordance with your stated tax-exempt function. This is harder for the IRS to monitor. In general, the tax agency only acts when a nonprofit admits it’s no longer following its own mandate. For example, an organization may come under scrutiny for failing to file annual reports. The IRS investigation may subsequently indicate that its exempt function has changed.
Protect your status as a nonprofit
Spend more time championing your cause, and less time worrying about the IRS. NJ CPA firm Magone & Company can help. Give us a call today at (973) 301-2300 to learn more.