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Nonprofit Knowledge Matters | Fiscal Sponsorship

Posted: 
February 23, 2011

Fiscal Sponsorship = Sharing Tax-Exempt Status

How can a nonprofit raise money if it is not tax-exempt? An organization that is not tax-exempt (either because it has not yet been recognized as tax-exempt by the IRS or has had its exemption revoked) can arrange with another organization that is tax-exempt to serve as its "fiscal sponsor." The role of the fiscal sponsor typically includes handling the administrative responsibilities of receiving and administering charitable contributions on behalf of the sponsored organization. (The fiscal sponsor may be paid a reasonable fee for this administrative service.)   In essence, fiscal sponsorship is a relationship in which the tax-exempt status of one organization is effectively shared with a sponsored organization/program. The sponsored organization benefits because contributions are made to the fiscal sponsor (which is tax-exempt). This allows donors to receive a deduction for their contribution, which generally smooths the way for financial support.

  • Because of the administrative responsibilities involved, it is best to memorialize fiscal sponsorship arrangements in a formal written agreement.
  • There are other reasons to consider a fiscal sponsorship relationship in addition to fundraising. Many organizations rely on their fiscal sponsor for other functions, such as bookkeeping, human resources, and various administrative roles.

Did you know? 
The IRS will soon release a list of nonprofits that have had their tax-exempt status automatically revoked for failure to file 990s with the IRS for three consecutive years. If a nonprofit loses its tax-exempt status but still wants to fund its operations on a temporary basis while it reapplies for tax-exempt status with the IRS, it will need a way to continue to attract deductible contributions in order to deliver its mission in the community. Fiscal sponsorship may be one answer.   Read all about fiscal sponsorships from the Resources section on the National Council’s website: what they are, why an organization might consider using a fiscal sponsor, and what risks and advantages they provide to the nonprofit serving as a fiscal sponsor.

  • Looking for a fiscal sponsor or willing to serve as one? Search or sign up using the Fiscal Sponsor Directory. Local community foundations and State Associations may also be helpful resources for finding fiscal sponsors. Some organizations that serve as incubators/fiscal sponsors are listed on our website.
  • Stay out of trouble with this post by NonprofitLaw Blog author Gene Tagaki, Esq., that offers advice about what to avoid when engaging in fiscal sponsor relationships: Fiscal Sponsorship – Six Ways to Do it Wrong.
  • If your organization is considering becoming a fiscal sponsor, or using one, read about recommended best practices for fiscal sponsors developed by the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors.
  • Put it in writing! Suggestions for what to include in a written agreement or memorandum of understanding between a fiscal sponsor and the sponsored organization are set forth on page 5 of this monograph: On Comprehensive Fiscal Sponsorship, by Joshua Sattely, Third Sector New England (2009).
  • Debunk the myths and learn about the untapped potential of fiscal sponsorships from this report, More than Money- Fiscal Sponsorship’s Unrealized Potential, BTW Consultants, (May 2007).
  • Before you take the plunge, learn from others: The experiences of 200 fiscal sponsors are described in the Fiscal Sponsorship Field Scan, a report based on the first-ever survey of fiscal sponsors conducted by the Tides Foundation (2006).
  • More fiscal sponsorship resources from CompassPoint. 

How could a nonprofit lose its tax-exempt status? A nonprofit could lose its tax-exempt status in a number of ways.

  • Read about risky activities that – when engaged in by a nonprofit – could jeopardize tax-exemption.
  • Most tax-exempt organizations, other than churches, must file an annual return (Form 990) with the IRS – if they do not, they face automatic revocation if they fail to file annual reports for three consecutive years.
  • Check the at-risk list. The IRS website provides a state-by-state list of organizations at-risk of losing their tax-exempt status. In some states there are over 12,000 organizations (just in that state) listed!

Guidance for donors to section 501(c)(3) organizations: You may rely on the organization’s determination letter or listing in Publication 78 to deduct contributions until the IRS publishes a notice on IRS.gov that the organization’s 501(c)(3) exempt status has been automatically revoked.