Internet fundraising must comply with other solicitation rules


The IRS has reaffirmed in a recently released Information Letter that no prohibition exists against a charitable organization using an Internet fundraising platform to raise funds.

Website or email solicitations should comply with the same rules that apply to other solicitations, noted the IRS in the Information Letter addressed to Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

The IRS said that an organization that intends to apply for recognition under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3) and wants to raise funds, whether by Internet or otherwise, must ensure that it structures its fundraising programs in a manner consistent with that tax-exempt status.

The organization must describe its actual and planned fundraising activities in its application (Form 1023, “Application for Recognition of Exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code”). It must report any expenses incurred with regard to fundraising on both Form 1023 and its annual information returns (Form 990, Form 990-EZ or Form 990-PF).

An organization that is raising funds and has not yet received recognition as exempt from tax under Code Section 501(c)(3) should make clear – with a conspicuous and easily recognizable statement in the solicitation material – that it has not yet received recognition and as a result contributions may not be deductible.

A Section 501(c)(3) organization cannot be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, such as the creator or the creator’s family, shareholders of the organization, other designated individuals or persons controlled directly or indirectly by such private interests. Also, no part of the organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.

Therefore, the IRS cautions that the organization should consider whether payments or benefits to fundraisers or other private parties may be excessive or may constitute impermissible direct or indirect private benefit or private inurement.

An organization that provides something of value to donors in exchange for donations must consider carefully the possibility that doing so may violate the rules against private benefit or private inurement. And it must comply with any substantiation and disclosure requirements for quid pro quo contributions.

In addition, the IRS advised that the organization should consider any state laws and regulations that may apply to Internet fundraising by nonprofit or tax-exempt organizations.