Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit Organizations in the United States

Legal Materials

Basic information on nonprofit organizations can be found in the Nonprofit Sector Yellow Book and the Encyclopedia of Associations. The Encyclopedia is available as a multi-volume hard cover, on the Gale Directory Library and on Lexis (ENASSC). To get Yellow Book information, see “Yellow Books.”

The Nonprofit Sector Yellow Book includes biographical information on organization personnel (see “Yellow Books”). The Encyclopedia of Associations will say which organizations have libraries. You might also want to get a Dun & Bradstreet report on the organization, which can provide financial as well as biographical information.

Definitely check out the organization’s Web site, if one is available. Web addresses are usually listed in the Nonprofit Sector Yellow Book and on Guidestar.

For information on charitable organizations, check out the Better Business Bureau, which posts reports on major charities, Charity Navigator, which sometimes has financial statements, Guidestar, which profiles over 600,000 charities, American Institute of Philanthropy, as well as the organization’s website, the organization’s Form 990 tax return (discussed below) and the relevant state registration (also discussed below).

The IRS’s Exempt Organizations Select Check will tell you whether an organization (1) is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions (Pub. 78 data); (2) has filed a Form 990-N (e-Postcard) annual electronic notice; (3) has had its tax-exempt status automatically revoked for failure to file a Form 990 for three consecutive years. See also the link for “Search Tips” (directly below the icon for Select Check) and Frequently Asked Questions.

Form 990 tax returns are available from the following sources:

  • Guidestar (requires free registration);
  • the Foundation Center’s 990 Finder;
  • the Nonprofit Form 990 search, which searches the collection posted by date by BulkResource.Org (EO, PF and T filings made back to 2002, for years back to 2000);
  • the Noza 990-PF Search;
  • the National Center for Charitable Statistics.
  • State Registration: Many states require charities/nonprofits to register with a state agency, and many states post a database of information from the filings including New York, Pennsylvania and California (click here for another California database). If the state does not offer an online database, you can call the relevant state agency for information (see “State Agencies,” below). Also check the relevant Secretary of State’s database of business entity registrations.

    Index of Articles and Books: The Foundation Center’s online catalog and article index — the Catalog of Nonprofit Literature — is a great resource for locating nonprofit-related books, articles, reports and other publications.

    News and legal developments related to non-profit organizations are reported and discussed in Bruce R. Hopkins’ Nonprofit Counsel (Wiley Interscience). Philanthropy news is reported in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Chronicle articles are available onLexis (NEWS;CHPHIL).

    Setting up nonprofits: Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts puts out a book on how to set up a not-for-profit corporation, as does Nolo Press. The Foundation Center makes itself “available to answer emailed questions about foundations, nonprofit resources, corporate giving,” as well as the Center’s information services and resources.

    The Government & Regulatory Links page posted by Perlman and Perlman LLP links to the relevant IRS Publications.

    Perlman and Perlman’s Nonprofit Fundraising Registration & Compliance page provides model disclosure language, templates and forms that non-profits can use for their direct mail, telemarketing, and other solicitation campaigns.

    Legal Research: Nonprofit Organizations (West/Foundation Press) by James J. Fishman & Stephen Schwarz is a leading treatise in the field. American Jurisprudenceand Corpus Juris Secundum also have significant chapters devoted to the law of nonprofit organizations.

    Research tip: Many states base all or some of their nonprofit corporation laws on the ABA’s Revised Model Nonprofit Corporation Act. If you can’t find much discussion of a section in your state’s nonprofit corporation law, you may be able to find something useful in the Official Comments published with the Model Act, in secondary sources discussing a corresponding section of the Model Act, or in cases discussing a corresponding statute from another state that was also adopted from the Model Act.

    Political Action Committees: PACs are a type of nonprofit organization used to influence elections on the Federal, state or local level. They file IRS Form 1120-POL tax returns, “U.S. Income Tax Return for Certain Political Organizations.” Filed 1120-POLs were briefly public documents but, in 2002, P.L. 107-276 struck the disclosure requirement from IRC §§ 527 and 6104, retroactively effective back to July 1, 2000, which is when they first became public (per IRS Manual and the IRS website).

    Ratings: Ratings of nonprofit organizations are available from Charity Watch and Charity Navigator.

    State Agencies: In the U.S., nonprofits are regulated state agencies, as well as the IRS. You can link to the agency for each state using the pull-down menu at the bottom of the Government & Regulatory Links page posted by Perlman and Perlman LLP.

    Nonprofit v. Not-for-Profit: Some people consider the terms nonprofit and not-for-profit interchangeable. However, others draw a distinction, per the following definitions.

    Nonprofit Organization: An organization that operates as if it were a business but does not seek a profit. Common examples of nonprofits include charities, private schools, and think tanks. Nonprofits do not pay taxes; donations to many are tax-deductible, at least up to certain limits. In order to qualify for this status, however, a nonprofit must register with the IRS, under section 501(c) of the tax code {from the Farlex Financial Dictionary, © 2009}.

    Not-for-profit: A not-for-profit organization pays taxes and may make a profit, but those profits are not distributed to its owners or members. Private clubs, sports organizations, political organizations, and advocacy groups are examples of not-for-profit institutions. Contributions to these not-for-profits are not tax deductible. Until it became a publicly traded company in 2006, the New York Stock Exchange was a not-for-profit membership association {from the Dictionary of Financial Terms, © 2008}.

    Nonprofit Organizations and the State Laws

    Select from the list of U.S. States below for state-specific information on Nonprofit Organizations:


    See Also

    Tax-Exempt Organizations
    D&B Reports
    Yellow Books

    Further Reading

    Nonprofit Organizations: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

    Federal Primary Materials

    The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Nonprofit Organizations. This part provides references, in relation to Nonprofit Organizations, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

    Federal primary materials about Nonprofit Organizations by content types:

    Laws and Regulations

    US Constitution
    Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

    Federal Case Law and Court Materials

    U.S. Courts of Appeals
    United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

    Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

    Presidential Materials

    Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

    Executive Materials

    Federal Legislative History Materials

    Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Nonprofit Organizations and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Nonprofit Organizations or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

    State Administrative Materials and Resources

    State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Nonprofit Organizations and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Nonprofit Organizations. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Nonprofit Organizations should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

    State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

    State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Nonprofit Organizations when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

    Tools and Forms

    Law in Other Regions

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