What are 501(c)(4) organizations?

Minneapolis nonprofit attorney Sarah Duniway discusses how 501(c)(4) organizations are typically politically oriented and influence elections as policy work.

Contact Sarah Duniway

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Phone: (612) 632-3055


501(c)(4) does seem to be the new buzz word. It’s strangely a conversation around my dinner table. What are these things? So, 501(c)(4) organizations are a kind of a nonprofit. They’re a nonprofit corporation under state law, but their tax exempt status is not a 501(c)3. It’s 501(c)(4). The reason they get to be tax exempt is that they are pursuing activities and work that benefits the community as a whole, but is improving the social welfare. There is an IRS definition for what that means. It’s not just anything, but it can involve advocating on specific issues or specific policy issues. The primary purpose of a 501(c)(4) organization needs to be moving a policy agenda. It cannot be influencing elections, but 501(c)(4) organizations are allowed to influence election as part of the policy work that they do, as long as it’s not their primary purpose.