The Tax-exempt 501(c)(3) Process

Tax-exempt organizations are commonly referred to as 501(c)(3)s. 501(c)(3) includes both public charities and private foundations. The 501(c)(3) is a process with a life cycle, there are 5 steps to a life cycle of a tax-exempt organization:

  1. Starting out number
  2. Applying for exemption number
  3. Require filings
  4. Ongoing compliance and
  5. Significant events

The first two steps, starting out and applying for exemption, are unique because you should only do them once for any single organization. For the purposes of this tutorial, we’re only going to concentrate on creating and maintaining one organization at a time.

What’s different about the other three steps is that a single organization has to deal with each of those issues multiple times. Some required filings are annual, for example.

Lifecycle – Starting Out

When you’re creating your organization, you may need to create organizing documents based on the requirements of your state. You’ll need these if you apply for tax exemption. If you’d like to apply for tax exemption, which is a federal level status, you’ll need to acquire an employer identification number, or EIN.

Even if you have no employees, you still need an EIN. Your EIN is similar to your personal social security number, only it’s for your business. It identifies you to the IRS.

Next, you need to determine what type of tax-exempt organization you have. You’ll need this information when you apply for tax-exempt status.If you decide to apply, you’ll probably need more information on the EIN.

Lifecycle – Applying for Exemption

  • Apply to the IRS for Tax-Exempt Status
  • Form 1023

To apply for tax exempt status, you’ll need to fill out Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ

You may be eligible to file Form 1023-EZ, a streamlined version of the application for recognition of tax exemption. You must complete the Form 1023-EZ Eligibility Worksheet in the Instructions for Form 1023-EZ PDF to determine if you are eligible to file this form. If you are not eligible to file Form 1023-EZ, you can still file Form 1023.

– Lifecycle – Required Filings

Once the IRS has granted your organization tax-exempt status, it’s important that you meet the mandatory annual filing requirements. You’ll need to file annual exempt-organization returns, and you could be required to file unrelated business income tax filings and other returns and reports to StayExempt.

Lifecycle – Ongoing Compliance

An organization can avoid jeopardizing its taxexempt status. To do that, you’ll need to understand employment taxes, public disclosure requirements, and other ongoing compliance issues.

Lifecycle – Significant Events

Significant events all have to do with your tax-exempt status. The events include, but aren’t limited to:

• Audits
• Private letter rulings and
• Termination proceedings