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A reader of my previous articles on non-profit organizations asked, “Why would someone want to form a non-profit organization and not want to become a 501c3?”

What is a Non-Profit?

Simply put, a non-profit — or not for profit — is an organization that does not distribute its profits to shareholders or owners. Instead of distributing taxable wealth to owners (like a for-profit company), a non-profit uses profits in order to fund its programs and services.

A non-profit can hire employees and a management team and do anything else required to operate. After all such expenses are paid, a non-profit business treats its surplus money differently than a for-profit business.

Instead of paying profits to stockholders, the “extra” money is instead used within the organization to pay for and expand its programs and services.

Non-profit is a legal status pertaining to how and why an organization is being run. It doesn’t confer tax-exempt status, nor must such an organization necessarily pursue tax-exempt status.

What is a Tax-Exempt Organization?

Tax-exempt is a taxation status. Tax-exempt means that your organization will not pay regular income taxes on monies left over after expenses are paid.

While you may be running a non-profit organization in terms of how you handle “extra” funds, you might or might not have a need to obtain tax-exempt status.

Your organization will be doing things to raise money to afford the products and services you want to offer, and some of that money will be used to pay your employees or marketing or other operational costs. After those things are paid, you have a profit.

Do you want that profit to be taxed, or do you want that profit to be tax-exempt?

If you want the Internal RevenService to exempt your organization from paying the same taxes as other businesses, you must seek approval for one of the many tax-exempt statuses available. The most commonly known tax-exempt status is 501c3.

You apply for 501c3 status with the IRS. If approved, your organization will be tax-exempt. As I explained in Now You’re Ready for Tax-Exempt Status, having a tax-exempt status does not mean that you don’t have to file with the IRS. You will have to file, and you will have paperwork.

Do I Need Both Non-Profit and Tax-Exempt Status?

Again, your organization can be non-profit and tax-exempt, or it can be non-profit and not tax-exempt.

Non-Profit Tax-Exempt
Legal status Tax status
No shareholders No Shareholders
Pays taxes on profits May not pay taxes on profits
No extensive application process to IRS Extensive application process to IRS
Activities not regulated by the IRS You’ve volunteered to have your activities highlyregulated by the IRS

You will have to weigh the costs versus the benefits against the objectives of your organization. These are not decisions to be made lightly. However, these decisions can be changed as your organization grows and perhaps changes some of its objectives.

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