Understanding Tax Exemptions, Filings, and Best Practices


As a nonprofit organization, staying compliant with tax regulations is pivotal to maintaining your tax-exempt status and protecting the trust of donors, funding sources, and the communities you serve. However, navigating the tax complexities and requirements specific to nonprofit organizations can be challenging, particularly given the myriad of filing obligations, exemptions, and ever-changing tax laws. Understanding the tax landscape for nonprofits is essential for ensuring efficient financial management and remaining in good standing with regulators.

In this comprehensive guide, we will provide an overview of the key tax compliance aspects that nonprofit organizations must consider, focusing on the essentials of tax exemptions, required filings, and best practices to safeguard your tax-exempt status. Our aim is to equip nonprofit leaders, board members, and financial professionals with the knowledge and tools necessary to navigate tax compliance, fulfill their financial responsibilities, and reinvest saved resources into their mission-driven work.

By understanding the nuances of nonprofit tax compliance and implementing best practices, nonprofit leaders can ensure financial stability and protect their organizations’ tax-exempt status, enabling a continued focus on their mission and impact.

Tax Compliance for Nonprofits: Understanding Tax Exemptions, Filings, and Best Practices

Understanding Tax-Exempt Status: Eligibility, Application, and Maintenance

To obtain and maintain tax-exempt status, it’s crucial to understand the eligibility criteria, application process, and steps to preserve this status:

  • Eligibility: Nonprofit organizations seeking tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code must meet certain criteria. Primarily, the organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes, such as charitable, religious, educational, or scientific activities.
  • Application: Eligible organizations must file Form 1023, the Application for Recognition of Exemption, with the IRS, providing extensive information about their purpose, activities, governance, and finances. Smaller organizations may qualify to file the streamlined Form 1023-EZ.
  • Maintaining Tax-Exempt Status: To maintain tax-exempt status, nonprofits must adhere to specific guidelines and requirements, such as avoiding political campaign involvement, limiting lobbying activities, and ensuring that profits are not primarily benefiting private individuals.

Navigating Required Filings: IRS Forms and Reporting Obligations

Nonprofit organizations must be aware of the various tax forms and reporting requirements associated with maintaining their tax-exempt status:

  • Form 990: Most tax-exempt organizations with gross receipts over a certain threshold ($200,000 for the tax year 2020) are required to file Form 990, the “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.” This form serves as an informational return, detailing the organization’s activities, governance, and financial data.
  • Form 990-EZ: Organizations with gross receipts between $50,000 and $200,000 (for the tax year 2020) may be eligible to file the shorter Form 990-EZ. This form also reports on the organization’s activities and finances, albeit with fewer requirements.
  • Form 990-PF: Private foundations, regardless of their income, must file Form 990-PF, which focuses on the organization’s financial data, operations, and grant-making activities.
  • Form 990-N: Organizations with gross receipts below $50,000 can file Form 990-N, also known as the e-Postcard. This simplified electronic filing requires only basic information about the organization.

UBIT and Other Tax Considerations: Ensuring Compliance

Nonprofit organizations must also be aware of other tax considerations that can impact their compliance:

  • Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT): Nonprofits may be subject to UBIT on income generated from activities unrelated to their primary mission. These activities must be regular, ongoing, and conducted primarily to generate profit. To avoid UBIT liabilities, nonprofits should review their income-generating activities and evaluate their relationship to the organization’s exempt purpose.
  • Sales Tax: Nonprofits may be subject to sales tax liabilities, depending on the state and nature of their activities. Some states provide exemptions for certain nonprofit organizations, while others impose sales tax on specific types of sales or services. It’s essential for nonprofits to understand local sales tax laws and maintain compliance.
  • Property Tax: Nonprofit organizations may also qualify for property tax exemptions, depending on the location and use of the property. Organizations must navigate local property tax regulations to ensure they meet eligibility requirements and avoid unnecessary tax liabilities.

Implementing Best Practices in Tax Compliance: Minimizing Risk

To ensure tax compliance and mitigate potential risks, nonprofit leaders should implement the following best practices:

  • Maintain Accurate and Up-to-date Records: Proper financial record-keeping is essential for tax compliance. Organizations should keep detailed records of revenues, expenses, and activities to support annual tax filings and substantiate tax-exempt status.
  • Stay Informed about Regulatory Changes: Regularly review IRS regulations and local tax laws to stay abreast of any changes that may affect your nonprofit’s tax compliance or reporting requirements.
  • Seek Professional Advice: Partnering with experienced accountants, tax professionals, or legal advisers can provide valuable guidance in navigating tax complexities, ensuring proper filings, and maintaining your organization’s tax-exempt status.


Navigating the intricate tax landscape of nonprofits is crucial to maintaining tax-exempt status, ensuring financial compliance, and safeguarding the trust of donors and supporters. By understanding tax exemptions, required filings, UBIT, and other tax considerations, nonprofit leaders can effectively manage their organization’s tax obligations and mitigate risks. Implementing best practices and seeking the guidance of tax professionals can further strengthen your nonprofit’s financial health and steadfastly support its mission and impact.

Looking for expert nonprofit tax accounting services in MA and Greater Boston area? Look no further than Ash CPA! Our team of experienced professionals is dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations navigate tax compliance and achieve financial stability. We offer personalized accounting, tax preparation, and business consulting services to nonprofits in the surrounding areas. Trust our expertise to guide your nonprofit organization’s financial management and ensure the continued pursuit of your mission-driven impact. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your organization thrive!