To obtain a 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, most nonprofit companies must file documents with the IRS proving they operate for certain charitable purposes specified by statute. Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) includes groups whose purposes are charitable, educational, religious, scientific, literary or supporting national or international amateur sports competitions, the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, and testing that applies to public safety. Contributions to 501(c)(3) organizations, with the exception of those that test for public safety, are deductible as charitable donations for federal income tax purposes. With the help of a number of federal and state government websites, as well as private websites, there are several ways to verify the exempt status of a nonprofit.
When an organization has 501(c)(3) status with the IRS it means that the organization was created for an "exempt purpose," which includes charitable, religious, educational or scientific purposes. Further, this means that the profits of the organization are not distributed to any member or officer, but instead used to further its mission. Donations to exempt organizations are tax deductible for the donor, as long as the contribution is not given in exchange for goods or services of the same value as the contribution. For larger donations, the donor may need a written acknowledgement from the charity to claim the deduction.
Read More: Different Types of Nonprofit Organizations
IRS Search Tool
The IRS Exempt Organizations Select Check (EO Select Check) allows the public to perform an online search for nonprofit organizations that have 501(c)(3) status, as well as if the charity has filed the required form 990. The EO Select Check will also show if a charity has lost its exempt status due to noncompliance with IRS regulations. To use the search tool, go to the EO Select Check page (see References), click "Search Exempt Organizations Select Check," and then select which type of search you would like to perform. To see if your donations are tax deductible, select the first radio button. Fill out as much information as you have about the organization, and you may then view the results by EIN, state, city, or name.
State Search Tools
Additionally, many state websites offer databases to search for charitable organizations. 501(c)(3) organizations must be registered with the state. However, the state database may not have information as to whether or not the charity has exempt status from the IRS. Similarly, many states have a Department of Charities, which will have a searchable database. Although this may not show the exempt status, many times you can find the nonprofit's EIN to assist in the IRS EO Select Check.
Independent Search Tools
Aside from government websites, there are independent industry watchdog and nonprofit resource websites that provide additional search tools to find nonprofits with 501(c)(3) status. For example, GuideStar has a searchable database on their homepage to search for nonprofits and see whether they are registered with the IRS and are up to date with their financial data. Similarly, the Better Business Bureau also has a searchable database; it also lists any complaints made to the BBB about the nonprofit. Finally, nonprofit websites such as idealist.org allow users to search and find more detailed information about a nonprofit organization, although information on idealist.org is typically provided by the nonprofit itself, unlike the other resources on other sites.
Elizabeth Rayne earned her J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2009, advising clients on issues ranging from employment law to nonprofit management. For two years, she served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."