Frequently Asked Questions
Can our organization provide assistance directly to individuals?
Yes. Charitable organizations, whether classified as public charities or private foundations, may provide assistance in the form of funds, goods or services to individuals to help meet basic human needs such as food, shelter, clothing and medical care (including mental and behavioral health care). Individuals qualify as potential recipients of charitable aid if they are “needy or distressed,” which encompasses a variety of circumstances beyond chronic poverty. “Needy” of course includes long-term financial need, but also includes temporary distress or lack of resources due to illness (including COVID-19), trauma, natural disaster or sudden and severe personal or family crisis (e.g., a house fire, a debilitating accident).
Can we limit our assistance to specific individuals, like our affected employees?
It depends. Charities must use their resources for the benefit of the public. The group of people eligible for assistance must be sufficiently large or indefinite to constitute a “charitable class.” A charitable class is essentially the cross-section of the public you intend to serve. Efforts to assist a pre-selected co-worker or their family members would not be charitable in the technical tax sense, since the group of people served would be both too small and too definite to make up a charitable class. (It would still be a good thing, just better suited to a supportive platform like GoFundMe.)
Disaster relief isn’t really part of our mission — can we still provide it without seeking permission from the IRS?
Yes. Your organization need not be the Red Cross or World Relief in order to respond to a crisis with the types of assistance discussed here. You will, however, need to report your activities and expenditures on your annual Form 990.
A lot of businesses are hurting due to the pandemic — can businesses be recipients of charitable funds?
Yes, with some cautions. A charity can provide assistance to businesses if doing so is a reasonable means of accomplishing a charitable purpose, and any benefit to private interests is incidental to accomplishing the charitable purpose. In general, this means that permissible types of assistance are likely to benefit the business sector more broadly, as opposed to specific individual businesses.
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