Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Nonprofit Tax-Exempt Status?

Nonprofit organizations play a crucial role in society, offering a wide range of services and support to various causes. These organizations are unique because they don't operate to make a profit. Instead, they focus on their mission. Their mission can be helping the community or advancing social welfare. It might be supporting religious, educational, or public safety initiatives.

Many organizations see only the financial benefits of nonprofit and tax-exempt status. Qualifying groups pay no tax on federal, state, and local taxes, so they can devote a larger proportion of their resources to achieving their particular goals. The status can also qualify groups for special grants or government funding, as well as special rates for services or even postage. Donors prefer contributions to these groups because they can deduct the payments from their own taxes.

Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of these organizations is important for those involved.

Form your nonprofit with confidence. Our trusted partner LegalZoom has packages starting at $99 + filing fees.

501(c)(3) Eligibility">501 (c)(3), your nonprofit's key purpose has to fall into one of five categories of purpose: charitable, religious, scientific, literary, or educational. Types of organizations that qualify include public charities and religious organizations. They also include social welfare organizations.


To get federal tax-exempt status, the organization files Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ with the IRS. This process confirms that the nonprofit meets the criteria under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. After reviewing the application, the IRS may grant a recognition of exemption. This confirms the organization's tax-exempt status.

Benefits of Tax-Exempt Status

Tax-exempt organizations like nonprofits enjoy several benefits. They don't pay federal income tax on money they make that's related to their nonprofit purpose. This is a big advantage compared to for-profit businesses. In many states, these organizations also have a sales tax exemption and may not have to pay state tax or property tax either.

Donations to these organizations are often tax-deductible. This makes nonprofits more appealing for people to support them. This tax-exempt status can help nonprofits save money, allowing them to put more resources into their mission. Moreover, they can apply for grants and other funding that might not be available to for-profit businesses.

The Corporate Shield

The form of the organization offers advantages in itself. Since nonprofits exist as corporations, they have all the benefits of corporate status. The corporate form shields owners and managers of the organization from personal liability so they will not be held liable for the group's actions. This is subject to certain legal exceptions. Nonprofit incorporation formalizes the group's goals. It helps maintain organizational focus as the effort grows.

Keep in mind that one of the best ways to maintain your corporate protection is to keep good records. Always document the major business decisions and nonprofit meetings you hold. Major business decisions include any contracts your nonprofit enters into. It also includes meeting minutes for all annual meetings of directors and shareholders or members/managers. It is a wise idea to always keep these records in either an electronic or paper format for seven to 10 years in case you are ever sued or audited.

Drawbacks of Tax-Exempt Status

There are drawbacks to being a tax-exempt organization. One major challenge is compliance with complex tax laws and regulations. Nonprofits must ensure they don't engage in prohibited activities. These activities include actions like political campaign activities or extensive lobbying. They must also be careful with unrelated business income, which can be taxable.

Additionally, maintaining nonprofit status requires detailed record-keeping and regular reporting to the IRS. This includes filing a tax return with the annual information about their gross receipts and expenditures. Violating these rules can result in losing your nonprofit status.

Some organizations prefer the flexibility of for-profit organizations. They prefer the potential for personal gain. Other organizations eschew incorporation entirely. Many smaller organizations will not enjoy the advantages of nonprofit tax-exempt status. Each individual group must weigh the pros and cons of the status carefully in light of their organizational goals and values.

An Attorney Can Help with Your Nonprofit Questions

Starting and running a small business as a nonprofit can be complicated. This is especially true when dealing with tax laws and the requirements for maintaining tax-exempt status. It's often helpful to consult with professionals with a certified public accountant (CPA). Lawyers experienced with nonprofits can also help.

Lawyers can provide guidance on completing the tax-exempt application correctly. They can help ensure compliance with federal and state laws. They can also help with crafting bylaws and articles of incorporation for your organization. These experts can also assist with understanding the responsibilities of the board of directors. They can help you manage your managing organization effectively.

Arming yourself with more information is a key step in nonprofit formation, and the best way to do that is to contact a skilled tax attorney in your area.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

I'd Like Help From a Lawyer

Contact a qualified business attorney to help you navigate the process of starting a business.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

I'd Like a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Kick-Start Your Nonprofit in Minutes!

LegalZoom can help you form a nonprofit corporation on your own or with advice every step of the way.

  • Starts at $99 + state fees
  • Register your nonprofit in 3 easy steps
  • Launch with the #1 online business formation service

Select and start my nonprofit


Prefer to work with a lawyer? Find one right now.

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options