Tag Archives: tax exempt

Avoid excess benefit transactions and keep your exempt status

One of the worst things that can happen to a not-for-profit organization is to have its tax-exempt status revoked. Among other consequences, the nonprofit may lose credibility with supporters and the public, and donors will no longer be able to make tax-exempt contributions.

Although loss of exempt status isn’t common, certain activities can increase your risk significantly. These include ignoring the IRS’s private benefit and private inurement provisions. Here’s what you need to know to avoid reaping an excess benefit from your organization’s transactions.

Understand private inurement

A private benefit is any payment or transfer of assets made, directly or indirectly, by your nonprofit that’s:

  1. Beyond reasonable compensation for the services provided or the goods sold to your organization, or
  2. For services or products that don’t further your tax-exempt purpose.

If any of your nonprofit’s net earnings inure to the benefit of an individual, the IRS won’t view your nonprofit as operating primarily to further its tax-exempt purpose.

The private inurement rules extend the private benefit prohibition to your organization’s “insiders.” The term “insider” or “disqualified person” generally refers to any officer, director, individual or organization (as well as their family members and organizations they control) who’s in a position to exert significant influence over your nonprofit’s activities and finances. A violation occurs when a transaction that ultimately benefits the insider is approved.

Make reasonable payments

Of course, the rules don’t prohibit all payments, such as salaries and wages, to an insider. You simply need to make sure that any payment is reasonable relative to the services or goods provided. In other words, the payment must be made with your nonprofit’s tax-exempt purpose in mind.

To ensure you can later prove that any transaction was reasonable and made for a valid exempt purpose, formally document all payments made to insiders. Also ensure that board members understand their duty of care. This refers to a board member’s responsibility to act in good faith, in your organization’s best interest, and with such care that proper inquiry, skill and diligence has been exercised in the performance of duties.

Avoid negative consequences

To ensure your nonprofit doesn’t participate in an excess benefit transaction, educate staffers and board members about the types of activities and transactions they must avoid. Stress that individuals involved could face significant excise tax penalties. For more information, please contact us.

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Holding on to your nonprofit’s exempt status

If you think that, once your not-for-profit receives its official tax-exempt status from the IRS, you don’t have to revisit it again, think again. Whether your organization is a Section 501(c)(3), Sec. 501(c)(7) or other type, be careful. The activities you conduct, the ways you generate revenue and how you use that revenue could potentially threaten your exempt status. It’s worth reviewing the IRS’s exempt-status rules to make sure your organization is operating within them.

Hot buttons

There are many categories of tax exemption — each with its own rules. But certain hot-button issues apply to most tax-exempt entities. These include:

Lobbying. Having a Sec. 501(c)(3) status limits the amount of lobbying a charitable organization can undertake. This doesn’t mean lobbying is totally prohibited. But according to the IRS, your organization shouldn’t devote “a substantial part of its activities” trying to influence legislation.

For nonprofits that are exempt under other categories of Sec. 501(c), there are fewer restrictions on lobbying activities. Lobbying activities these groups undertake must relate to the accomplishment of the group’s purpose. For instance, an association of teachers can lobby for education reform without risking its tax exemption.

Campaign activities. The IRS considers lobbying to be different from campaign activities, which are completely off limits to Sec. 501(c)(3) organizations. This means they can’t participate or intervene in any political campaign for or against a candidate for public office. If you’re not a 501(c)(3) organization, campaign restrictions vary.

Excess profit and private inurement. The cardinal rule about profits is that a nonprofit can’t be operated to benefit private interests. If your fundraising is successful and you have extra income, you must put it back into the organization through additional services or by creating a reserve or an endowment. You can’t use extra income to reward an individual or a person’s related entities.

Unrelated revenue. If you’re generating income through a trade or business you conduct regularly and it’s outside the scope of your mission, you may be subject to unrelated business income tax (UBIT). Examples include a university that rents performance halls to nonuniversity users or a charity selling advertising in its newsletter.

Almost all nonprofits are subject to this provision of the tax code, and, if you ignore it, you could risk your exempt status. That said, losing an exempt status from unrelated business income is rare.

Know the rules

IRS Publication 557, Tax-Exempt Status for Your Organization, outlines the rules for all nonprofits that qualify for exempt status. We can help your nonprofit interpret and apply the information based on its specific situation. Contact us today!

© 2019