Edupreneurs | April 2, 2024

How f⁠i⁠scal sponsorsh⁠i⁠p can help edupreneurs apply⁠i⁠ng for gran⁠t⁠s

In starting new unconventional learning environments, some founders may choose to seek out grants to help their venture get off the ground. In some cases, grant-making organizations may require that an education provider be organized as a nonprofit, and either recognized as a 501(c)(3) by the IRS or have a “fiscal sponsor,” an organization that is already designated as a 501(c)(3).

Fiscal sponsorship is an important concept for emerging nonprofits that have not yet achieved 501(c)(3) status. This arrangement involves an established nonprofit — the fiscal sponsor — providing administrative services, financial management, and fiduciary oversight to the new organization. This arrangement allows the new entity to receive charitable contributions and access funding opportunities typically reserved for tax-exempt organizations.

One of the primary benefits of fiscal sponsorship is that it enables fledgling nonprofits to attract donors and receive tax-deductible contributions, which are administered by the fiscal sponsor. This is particularly crucial for organizations in their startup phase, as it provides a means to raise funds before they are officially recognized as tax-exempt by the IRS. Additionally, fiscal sponsorship offers a platform to test the viability and effectiveness of the organization’s mission and programs.

For fiscal sponsorship to be effective and legal, the fiscal sponsor must maintain control over the funds and ensure compliance with the applicable laws. This requires a written agreement between the sponsor and the sponsored organization, detailing responsibilities, compliance requirements, and administrative fees.  It is possible to receive the support of a fiscal sponsor even while seeking 501(c)(3) status from the IRS.

The process of obtaining 501(c)(3) status is detailed and requires careful preparation; time from application to designation can be months. Nonprofits must submit Form 1023 to the IRS, providing comprehensive information about their structure, governance, and proposed activities. The organization needs to demonstrate it is organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes. Successfully achieving this status allows a nonprofit to directly receive tax-deductible contributions and access a broader range of funding opportunities. There are companies that offer expedited support to apply for and receive 501(c)(3) status. In some cases, such support can accelerate the receipt of a 501(c)(3) designation. Founders should exercise prudence and diligence when evaluating using a service provider for this purpose. A founder who is willing to invest some time and energy to read and understand the instructions and guidance at the IRS website, or one supported by another founder who has gone through the same process, can accomplish this task.

Fiscal sponsorship can be a practical solution for new nonprofits during their formative stages. It can enable organizations to receive financial support through grants and creates a framework to test and grow their operational capabilities. The eventual goal for most of these organizations is to achieve independent 501(c)(3) status, which allows for greater autonomy and direct access to tax-deductible contributions and grants.

It’s important to understand the distinction between being recognized as a nonprofit organization at the state level and obtaining 501(c)(3) status under federal law. While 501(c)(3) status is essential for donations to be tax-deductible on federal income taxes, an organization can still be legally organized as a nonprofit under state law without this status. This distinction is particularly relevant for education providers who may not rely primarily on donations for their operations.

Organizations that are recognized as nonprofits at the state level are typically (not exclusively or necessarily) incorporated under state nonprofit corporation statutes. This incorporation grants them legal recognition and certain protections but does not automatically confer tax-exempt status for federal income tax purposes. Therefore, donations made to these organizations are not tax-deductible unless the organization also obtains 501(c)(3) status.

For education providers, the decision to seek 501(c)(3) status depends on their operational model and funding strategy. If an educational institution is primarily funded through tuition, fees, or other sources and does not rely significantly on charitable contributions, it may not find it necessary or beneficial to undergo the rigorous process of obtaining 501(c)(3) status. In such cases, being a state-recognized nonprofit may suffice for their legal and operational needs.

In summary, while 501(c)(3) status is crucial for federal tax deduction eligibility for donors, it is not a prerequisite for an organization to operate as a nonprofit. This is particularly true for organizations like education providers, where the primary source of funding might not be charitable donations.

For specific details on the 501(c)(3) application process visit the IRS webpage relating to application for recognition of exemption. National Council of Nonprofits’ page on Fiscal Sponsorship for Nonprofits is also helpful.

If you have further questions about this and whether seeking 501(c)(3) status is advisable, please submit a request for help and consider seeking specific legal advice from a tax professional or attorney in your local area.