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This is the personal blog of Sterling Olander, a Certified Public Accountant and Utah-licensed attorney. For over seven years, I have assisted clients with estate planning and administration, tax mitigation, tax controversies, small business planning, asset protection, and nonprofit law.

I write about any legal, tax, or technological information that I find interesting or useful in serving my clients. All ideas expressed herein are my own and don't constitute legal or tax advice.

Introduction to Forming a 501(c)(3)

While there are many different types of organizations that are exempt from federal income taxation, the best known is the 501(c)(3) organization. There are also many different types of 501(c)(3) organizations, which I summarized in a prior post. By default, a 501(c)(3) organization is a private nonoperating foundation unless it can qualify as a public charity by, for example, achieving certain levels of public support. Anyone can form a public charity, and many have chosen to do so in recent years.

The first step in establishing a 501(c)(3) organization is to create a legal entity under state law. While a trust and a limited liability company can be used, it usually makes the most sense to form a nonprofit corporation. Such an entity must have a charitable purpose that is recognized as such by the IRS; this link contains a description of the exempt purposes for which an organization can be organized and achieve 501(c)(3) status.
After the legal entity is formed, its directors need to appoint officers, adopt bylaws and a conflict of interest policy, and apply for an employer identification number. The next and most difficult step is completing IRS Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and the accompanying exhibits. This step in particular is the one where it makes the most sense to work with an adviser who is familiar with nonprofit organizations because the IRS will scrutinize the exemption application.

Once the application for exemption is approved, the IRS will send a determination letter notifying the organization that it is exempt from federal income taxation under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and that donors can make donations to the organization and take a federal tax deduction for such donations. A copy of Wikimedia Foundation's determination letter appears on the right.

A few final steps and ongoing requirements are worth noting. Prior to soliciting the public for donations, the organization will need to ensure that it has completed the charitable solicitation registration process that most states require. The organization will also need to file some version of IRS Form 990 each year; small charities can file the 990-N postcard version online. Finally, the organization will need to ensure that it keeps its corporate entity in good standing, typically by filing an annual report with the state.