Tax Exempt Organizations

Tax Exempt Organizations in the United States

Legal Materials

Qualified tax-exempt organizations are listed by state in the SOI Tax Stats – Exempt Organizations Business Master File Extract (EO BMF). To double check an organization’s status, call the IRS at 1-877-829-5500.

You can look up tax-exempt organizations qualified to receive tax-deductible contributions using the Exempt Organizations Select Check. Note: There is a delay of up to a month before new/reinstated organizations get on the list. Again, you can double check an organization’s status by calling the IRS at 1-877-829-5500.

Until 2012, qualified tax-exempt organizations qualified to receive tax-deductible contributions were listed in Publication 78, Cumulative List of Organizations. The list was available on the IRS website and published in print each September, with supplements listing new additions (but not revocations) published quarterly. To find out more, you can call the IRS (877-829-5500) or search the Internal Revenue Bulletins to find the notices announcing additions and revocations to Pub 78 (see entry for “Internal Revenue Service”).

IRS guidelines on charitable contributions are published in IRS Publication 526. Pub 526 is posted on the IRS Web site.

Tax-Exempt Org news is reported in the monthly Exempt Organization Tax Review by Tax Analysts.

Donors: and FindWealth8 are subscription services that let you search through databases designed to identify and research individuals who and institutions that make charitable donations. Alternatively, you can search many of these databases individually either for free or for cheap through public records aggregators like TLO or Accurint (e.g., Form 990 database, D&B, public real estate records, business executive profiles, political contributions).

Exemption Rulings and Adverse Determination Letters: When the IRS determines that an organization qualifies for tax-exempt status, the IRS Exempt Organizations Technical Division issues a letter, usually a form letter stating that the organization has qualified for tax-exempt status and can accept tax-deductible donations. You can search for these letters in the FTX-EXEMPT database on Westlaw (1994-present). They are provided in PDF format attached to news stories on the Tax Analysts website; go to the Exempt Organizations section and search “Exemption Rulings” or the name of the organization (2008-present).

If the IRS determines that an organization does not qualify for tax-exempt status, they will send the organization an adverse determination letter explaining why the exemption request was denied and providing instructions on how to appeal the adverse determination. The IRS has posted over 2000 redacted adverse determination letters at Tax Analysts (scroll down to the files starting “den”). Note: You can search these rulings by adding “site:” to your other search terms in Google.

Individual Organizations: To get more information about individual tax-exempt organizations, try the National Center for Charitable Statistics and/or click on the cross-references to “Foundation” and/or “Non-Profit Organizations,” below.

Tax returns (IRS Form 990s) for most tax-exempt organizations are posted by:

  1. Guidestar (requires free registration);
  2. the Foundation Center’s 990 Finder;
  3. 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);
  4. the Noza 990-PF Search;
  5. the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

Exceptions include religious organizations, Federally chartered organizations and small charities with annual revenue less than $25,000. The form may also be posted on the organization’s Web site. If that doesn’t work, try contacting the organization, theFoundation Center (for returns from the past few years) or file Form 4506-A with the IRS. Also, you can get pre-1996 Form 990s from the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) University Library (317-274-0464), which holds the Foundation Center’s Historical Foundation Collection.

Smaller tax-exempt organizations are allowed to file a short Form 990-N nicknamed a “postcard.” You can search for and retrieve the information on postcards using the IRS Exempt Organizations Select Check with the “Have filed Form 990-N (e-Postcard)” button checked.

Churches are automatically tax-exempt; they do not have to file anything or register with the IRS, although some do anyway (see Pub 1828, Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations).

More Tax Legal Materials

More legal materials about Tax include the following topics (see the separate entries for them):

  • Tax
  • Tax Code – See: Internal Revenue Code and Tax Regulations
  • Tax Forms
  • Tax Liens
  • Tax Management Portfolio series (BNA’s)
  • Tax Treaties – See also: Treaties and Foreign Treaties
  • Taxpayer Identification Numbers

Tax Exempt Organizations and the State Laws

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

Definition of Tax-Exempt Organizations

A concept of Tax-Exempt Organizations applicable in the United States: Organizations that meet an approved tax-exempt purpose and thus do not have to pay federal and/or state income taxes, except with respect to income earned by a trade or business that is unrelated to the purpose for which the organization was granted tax-exemption. The Internal Revenue Code defines more than 25 categories of organizations that are exempt from federal income taxes, including charities, business associations, labor unions, fraternal organizations, and many others. Whereas other types of nonprofit organizations benefit the private, social, or economic interests of their members, charitable organizations must benefit the broad public interest and Congress has therefore provided, with very limited exceptions, that only those charities organized under section 501(c)(3) are eligible to receive tax deductible contributions. See also Charitable Organization, Private Foundation, Public Charity.


See Also

  • Charity
  • Foundation
  • NGOs


See Also

Campaign Contributions
Nonprofit Organizations

Further Reading

Tax Exempt 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 Tax Exempt Organizations. This part provides references, in relation to Tax Exempt Organizations, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Tax Exempt 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 Tax Exempt 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 Tax Exempt 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 Tax Exempt 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 Tax Exempt Organizations. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Tax Exempt 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 Tax Exempt Organizations when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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