Is That Charitable Contribution Deductible?

Like many Americans, you make contributions to charitable organizations out of the goodness of your hearts…and the tax deduction. But is that contribution actually deductible?

This article is an alert to individual taxpayers, but is also a wakeup call to responsible parties of tax exempt organizations. Continuation of your tax exempt status is no longer a given, if you have not fulfilled your reporting requirements.

A few days ago, IRS announced that approximately 275,000 organizations had automatically lost their tax exempt status, because they did not file legally required annual reports for three consecutive years. At the same time, the Service also announced special steps to help organizations apply for reinstatement of their tax exempt status.

In 2007, a filing requirement was imposed on small organizations, where there had been no requirement previously. At the same time, the law allowed IRS to automatically revoke the tax exempt status of any organization that didn’t file the required returns for three consecutive years. Since that time, IRS has made many efforts to inform exempt organizations of these changes, and also gave smaller organizations additional time to file required returns.

All exempt organizations are required to file one type of Form 990 or another. There is the ‘long form’ 990 (Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax), the ‘short form’ 990-EZ, and the 990-N ‘e-postcard’. For organizations with annual gross receipts of $50,000 or less for 2010, the filing requirement is satisfied by submitting the e-postcard. Not filing at least one of these three returns for the last three years subjects an exempt organization to the automatic revocation of its exempt status. For organizations that have had their exempt status revoked, IRS has procedures for reinstatement that include reduced application fees.

Now back to you, the one making the charitable contribution. Before you take that deduction, check the IRS website, as they have lists of organizations that qualify as public charities, as well as lists of organizations that have had their exempt status revoked. You may only take a deduction for contributions made to qualifying charitable organizations.

If you have any questions about this, please contact me, and please post a comment. And if you have any friends who are involved in small exempt organizations, have them read this article.

I Started a Nonprofit, and Now I Have to Do What??

You just formed a nonprofit organization. Congratulations on your altruism, and your chutzpah! Most people would’ve just made a donation to the charity of their choice, and considered that to be doing their part to help humanity, or the environment, or the planet, or something else. You’ve taken a step past that; a BIG step. You’re going to personally help further a cause that’s near and dear to you, and that’s beyond commendable, because you’re about to sacrifice yourself in ways that you may not have considered.

This is a brief discussion of some things that you’ve hopefully thought of, when you decided to form your nonprofit. For those of you considering starting your own nonprofit, think about these things before you take the big leap. The following issues have all arisen in discussions with clients, over the years.

I’m in business for myself?

In a word, yes! Starting a nonprofit is the same as starting your own for-profit business, except you’re using the public’s money. Until you’re large enough to have your own staff, you’re going to be the program director, development director/fundraiser, bookkeeper, and other positions, all rolled into one. Taking into consideration other ‘adult’ duties (i.e. spouse, parent, ”real job”, soccer practices, etc), when you add the responsibilities of managing a nonprofit business, you may run out of hours in a day.

I have to file what with IRS?

Just because you filed with the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) to be a non-stock corporation, doesn’t mean that you’re done with the formation. When most people think of forming a ‘nonprofit’, they’re thinking of a 501(c)(3) public charity, as recognized by IRS. That doesn’t come automatically with your SCC filing. To be recognized as a public charity, Form 1023 “Application for Recognition of Exemption…” must be filed with (and approved by) IRS. The application is fairly rigorous, and is not rubber stamped, so make sure all the information is completely and accurately filled out, before submitting.

I need to be a bookkeeper too?

For us CPAs, this part is a breeze, but for the general public, maintaining accounting records can be a real drag. If you’re going to be a public charity using public funds (contributions), you will be accountable to the public as to how you used their money. By some means (yourself, a bookkeeper, etc) you will need to keep books and records of the organization’s finances, for different purposes, one of which follows, next.

I have to file what with IRS?

I know, you’ve heard that already. The issue is, filing that original application for tax exemption with IRS doesn’t fulfill your obligations to them forever. A report of one length or another must be filed with IRS annually. It can be as detailed and complicated as the Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax), which is the “long form” 990, or can be the 990-EZ “short form”, or even the 990-N “e-postcard”. Which form you file is dependent on how much your gross receipts and total assets were for each tax year.

This article barely scratches the surface of things that you need to consider when you form a nonprofit organization (or think of forming one). Remember, you’ll be using other peoples’ money, and will be held to a higher standard than if you were in business for yourself. Be prepared!

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